Cell Phones Are A New Target For Computer Viruses
You’ve installed software to protect your computer from viruses, worms and spyware. You’ve set up firewalls to keep out hackers. Your computer is safe, so your technology worries are over, right?
Wrong. Computer viruses have found a new home: The mobile phone.
Building service contractors use cellular phones to communicate with sales representatives on the move or with cleaning crews at various job sites. A virus is the last problem contractors need. To help prevent viruses from disrupting field operations, BSCs should know how to protect themselves from an attack.
Who’s a target?
Most viruses are aimed at phones using Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth uses a wireless headset, allowing users to talk without being physically connected to the phone. Bluetooth also can transmit information from the phone to other wireless devices, such as PDAs or laptop computers. Essentially, the headset acts as a small radio transmitter from the ear to the phone, says Steve Epner, founder, Brown Smith Wallace LLC, a consulting firm in St. Louis.
Hackers can break into the signal and listen in to conversations or send other radio signals to the phone, such as commands to erase memory or crack into the address book, says Epner.
But, Bluetooth is not the only target for cell-phone hackers. Other viruses are sent via a phone’s multimedia messaging service (MMS), says Joshua Knopp, senior consultant, Brown Smith Wallace LLC. MMS is a feature that allows users to create, send and receive text messages that include an image, audio or video clip.
Once viruses penetrate the phone, the damage varies. Some viruses will send themselves on to phone numbers stored in the address book while others will cause the phone to act sluggishly. The recent Cabir virus drained phone batteries.
“The real damage lies in the user’s phone bill. If the user has to pay for each MMS message sent or received and has an extensive contact list, the MMS charges on the user’s bill could add up very quickly,” says Knopp.
There are a few things BSCs can do to reduce the threat of cellular-phone viruses. First, they should practice the same care they do with unknown e-mail attachments, says Knopp. If users receive a MMS message from someone they don’t know, they probably shouldn’t open it, Knopp explains.
For Bluetooth technology, users can set their phones into a “non-discoverable” state so their phone will be invisible to other Bluetooth devices, says the company Web site. When users do want to transmit data, most receivers will require that a passcode or pin number be entered. Utilizing a passcode will significantly reduce the likelihood of receiving a virus, says Knopp.
If a user is attacked, he should immediately contact his mobile service provider, advises Knopp. Victims should also contact people in their address book to warn them of potential infection, he says.
Diagnosing the future
While only a few mobile-phone viruses currently exist, experts agree that this is only the beginning. As companies find new ways to defeat hackers, hackers will in turn find new ways to get around technology, says Epner. Experts expect virus traffic, as well as the severity of the attacks, to increase.
“A potential concern for future viruses is that personal information could be sent out from a user’s phone,” says Knopp. “Many ‘smart-phones’ today allow users to synch their e-mail and calendar into their phone from their office or home PC. Imagine a virus that could spread your information to every user in your contact list.”