British cities rife with mobile viruses, says firm selling mobile anti-virus software

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virus.jpgGiven the last week’s controversy about how BBC’s Panorama used devices made by an anti-Wi-Fi campaigner to measure Wi-Fi radiation, it’s hard not to question scare stories about mobile viruses when they come from firms who sell mobile anti-virus software.

Such is the case with an announcement today by UMU, which claims seven destructive viruses are lurking on British high streets and shopping centres. UMU says that during 28 days spent wandering around these locations, its tester’s Nokia 6630 was infected by the five viruses, called things like CardTrap, Doomed and Skulls.

But hang on a minute, does this really mean most people’s smartphones are under threat too?

UMU says that the viruses were contracted by taking the 6630 to high streets and shopping centres in ten UK cities, and then turning on its Bluetooth receiver or downloading files via MMS, SMS or email. This apparently “opened up the device to immediate attack from hackers renowned for targeting these busy areas”.

They go on: “In a matter of minutes the mobile was exposed to a range of viruses threatening to render the phone unusable and in need of complete reformatting… In some cases, the mobile was attacked by other malware which, once downloaded, could allow the hacker to monitor calls, emails and texts, steal private data, send that data onto others in the user’s address book and even dial premium rate numbers at the user’s expense.”

Over 28 days, the 6630 was infected by five viruses, says UMU. Cabir and CommWarrior are spread by Bluetooth and MMS, with Cabir being a relatively harmless virus that tries to spread to other devices, while CommWarrior resets the phone on the 14th of every month, deleting personal data. Cabir was contracted once by the 6630, and CommWarrior twice.

Meanwhile, UMU says the 6630 also caught Skulls once, which disables phone apps like the phone book, text messaging and media player while changing all icons to skull’n’crossbones. It also caught Doomed, which disables some apps and installs a bunch of other viruses. And it caught CardTrap twice, which overwrites phone apps with corrupted copies, and installs more viruses.

But here’s the thing: those last three viruses are caught by being “downloaded by user” according to UMU’s press release. Which makes you wonder how they got onto the 6630 in this particular test. Presumably they were actively downloaded, which isn’t the same as being bombarded by dodgy viruses the minute you step into a shopping centre.

Firms like UMU do have a point, in that the growth of smartphones and mobile email means there’s going to be an opportunity for viruses to spread. And yes, people won’t always be savvy enough to think before downloading a file when prompted.

While anti-virus software may have a place on smartphones, education is arguably also important (admittedly made harder by the fact that many smartphones still ping up a security warning even when you’re buying a game from your mobile operator).

But on a personal level, it’s hard not to question the fact that I’ve been wandering around high streets and shopping centres regularly with my Nokia smartphone in recent months, with Bluetooth turned on, and haven’t received one virus – or even an attempted infection. Yet UMU, an anti-virus specialist, managed to pick up seven in 28 days.

I’m glad companies like UMU are researching mobile viruses, and there’s no doubt that there are coders out there who’d love to infect every phone in a busy high street if they could. But while mobile viruses are clearly out there if you go looking for them, it’s still questionable whether they’re quite the plague that announcements like this would have us believe.

UMU website

Stuart Dredge