Ramblings & ephemera

Cell phone viruses

From Jim Giles’ “The inside story of the Conficker worm” (New Scientist: 12 June 2009):

Earlier this year, smartphone users in China started to get messages promising a “sexy view” if they clicked on a link. The link led to a download. That download was a spam generator which, once installed, sent identical “sexy view” messages to everyone in the owner’s contacts list.

That was the first virus known to travel by text message. It was chiefly an annoyance, but there is great potential harm from mobile viruses, especially as technologies such as Bluetooth provide new ways for viruses to spread. But there has never yet been a cellphone threat as serious as Conficker is to PCs.

There are two reasons for that, says Albert-László Barabási of Northeastern University in Boston. He and his colleagues used billing data to model the spread of a mobile virus. They found that Bluetooth is an inefficient way of transmitting a virus as it can only jump between users who are within 30 metres of each other. A better option would be for the virus to disguise itself as a picture message. But that could still only infect handsets running the same operating system. As the mobile market is fragmented, says Barabási, no one virus can gain a foothold.

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