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Fri, Feb 15, 2008 - Page 10 News List

Virus attacks on mobile phones on the rise: experts

DANGER SIGNS With more people using their handsets to download materials online, the risks of getting hit by bugs are increasing, a survey said


Viruses and hacking on mobile phones are still rare but attacks are a looming danger as increasing numbers of people access the Internet and download files with their handsets, experts say.

A survey released this week at the industry's Mobile World Congress showed that only 2.1 percent of people had been struck by a virus themselves and only 11.6 percent knew someone who had been affected by one.

The poll by IT security specialist McAfee, based on 2,000 people in Britain, the US and Japan, showed that 86.3 percent had had no experience of mobile phone viruses.

The survey did suggest, however, that the more developed the mobile market is, with high use of the Internet and downloads, the more likely people were to be hit by bugs.

Virus attacks in Japan, the world's most developed mobile phone market, were far more commonplace than elsewhere.

"We should look at places like Japan, which is where the future of mobile technology is," said Graham Cluley, a consultant at Sophos, another IT security firm.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we saw this problem growing because the phone is going to grow into a sort of mobile computer," he said.

A Web site which which tracks incidents of mobile virus infections -- www.mobilephoneviruses.com -- lists a handful of examples such as Skulls, Velasco and Commwarrior.

The latter infected about 110,000 phones in Spain last year, attacking phones running Nokia's Symbian operating system. It spread via MMS messages, text messages containing an audio, video or picture file.

"Viruses aren't a huge issue now, but they have the potential to be so in the future when Internet use is more widespread," said Pete Nuthall, a telecom analyst at Forrester, a market research company.

The industry is keen for phone owners to use their handsets for more than just calls and texting -- for which profits are declining in developed countries -- with Internet and video, games and mapping the basis of new product offerings.

"It's a risk that we should be aware of but one shouldn't make it dramatic and worry people," said Emmanuel Forgues from Russian IT security group Kaspersky. "But it's a risk that exists and is certainly going to develop."

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