Viruses threaten mobile networks

Increasingly sophisticated mobile viruses, and a lack of awareness, could lead to the serious disruption of networks, McAfee director warns

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By  Roger Field Published  March 19, 2008

Mobile users and operators in the Middle East face a serious threat from the potential outbreak of viruses targeting mobile devices, according to Patrick Hayati, regional director of McAfee.

The proliferation of viruses targeting mobile devices, and a lack of awareness among consumers and operators, could lead to major disruptions of operator networks, as well as costing end-users a fortune.

"This is going to be devastating and the problem is that the world is unaware," Hayati said. "Most phones are not protected because nothing on a major scale has happened before, so no-one is paying attention.

"When the outbreak happens, it is going to be a massive worldwide outbreak, and with the amount of people who carry cell phones, it is going to spread around the world in no time. It is true that nothing big has happened yet, but it is a matter of time. It will happen, there is no doubt about it in anyone's mind."

The problem is further exacerbated by the increased use of PDAs and other mobile devices capable of accessing the internet, most of which lack any anti-virus software, according to Hayati.

A lack of awareness of the problem leaves users of mobile devices open to the threat of software that can cause phones to send out texts automatically, or even dial high-cost phone numbers without the owner's knowledge. Furthermore, as this type of virus becomes more sophisticated, its potential to disrupt entire networks increases.

"It is entirely possible that a viruses will come along that goes to your mobile phone and sends an SMS to everyone on your contact list," Hayati said. "If that virus spreads across a network and then every phone on the network starts sending SMSs to everyone else, you can imagine what that will do to the operators' network.

"If we are extremely lucky as a society, it will be virus that will as benign as draining your battery, which you can recover from, but if not, the consequences could be a lot worse, with a loss of data, failure on network systems, and failure of communications."

For Hayati, it is essential that software companies such as McAfee work with the mobile industry and consumers to raise awareness. "It is everyone's responsibility," he said. "If you make parallels with the IT industry, it is the responsibility of the manufacturers, solution providers and security companies together as one to try to protect their customers."

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