Can You Get a Virus on a Cell Phone?
Greg Norman, FNCU Editor
Over the past decade, personal computers have become the targets of thousands of viruses created by hackers looking to steal personal information.
And now, as cellular technology becomes more similar to computers, security software companies are expecting smartphones to be the next areas targeted by these malicious programs.
“A lot of cybercriminals are looking to hack into people's phones to gather their data because our phones now have turned into [miniature] computers of which were storing valuable information such as credit cards and pin numbers,” said Scott Frohman, CEO of Options Media Group, a technology marketing company.
According to Frohman, smartphone users can catch viruses on their phones through application downloads, email attachments and unencrypted Bluetooth networks.
Dan Nader, director of product management for Symantec, the creator of Norton security products for PCs, believes security risks are particularly troublesome on phones running Google's mobile operating system: Android.
While browsing Google's application market, users can download new programs with a click of a button. However, each program asks for different usage permissions from the phone owner, such as allowing it access to their call history or recent text messages.
“Sometimes the list is small, and sometimes the list is very, very long,” Nader said. “A lot of people will wonder ‘why does this app need to access my GPS or my phone book?'”.
“Android doesn't give you the ability to selectively decide what you want to allow and what you don't want to allow. It's all or nothing.”
Similar application risks also exist for Blackberry and Windows Mobile phone operating systems, which can install applications being sold on third-party web sites.
According to Yahoo! News, F-Secure, a Finnish computer security company, recently discovered two malware applications being sold to Windows Mobile phone users.
One game, “3D Anti-Terrorist Action”, would hijack a user's phone to make unsolicited phone calls to international premium rate numbers at locations such as Somalia.
“The openness of [any application store] model leads to potential mischief,” Nader said.
To combat security risks, Options Media, Symantec, and other companies have brought their anti-virus software to mobile platforms.
Options Media offers the PhoneGuard Mobile Applications Suite, developed by NetQin, for Android, Windows Mobile, and Symbian phones for $39.95 per year. It provides users the ability to lock their phone if stolen, scan applications for potential viruses, and prevents texting while driving.
Symantec has released their Norton Smartphone Security software for Android, Windows Mobile, and Symbian-run phones, which give users similar features.
They also offer Norton Connect, an online data backup application where users can retrieve lost information from anywhere, for Android phones and the iPhone. Both applications currently are free and in beta form, where people can test the software before its official release.
Jonathan Geller, founder and editor of the technology blog Boy Genius Report, believes computer security companies are keeping ahead of the curve by developing programs before large-scale viruses hit smartphones.
“At that point it'll be so hard to attack, why would [hackers] waste their time?” he said.
For users who decide to forgo using anti-virus software, they can rely on security fixes through updates of their smartphone's operating system.