You’ve installed the latest virus and malware protection software on your PC. You lock down your home firewall as tightly as you can while still leaving enough open to do business. You train others in your home to use safe computing practices. And, then you find out there’s another route of infection that never even occurred to you – your cell phone.
It’s a never ending struggle against the forces of computer darkness.
Today’s cell phones, PDAs and other mobile devices are more than just communicators – they’re small computers. And, they’re on the largest, most public networks in the world. There are over 500 million mobile phone users in China alone. For comparison, China has fewer than 100 million Internet users.
Most don’t use Windows, but they all have operating systems and applications. Traditionally, most of those are burned in the chip and very hard to infect. But more and more offer services that allow the downloading of music and image files and even whole applications.
These days, any type of file can be used to store a virus, since there can be vulnerabilities in the applications that use them. So, if you download an image file, such as a jpg, to your cell phone, then later upload it to your PC you could be infecting your PC. That’s essentially the same way PCs used to (and still can) get infected – by transferring viruses via floppy disk or CD. You’re introducing something that didn’t come through a secured, scrubbed channel.
Beyond transferring viruses from one device to another, the cell phone, PDA, etc can have a virus that affects the device itself. Since most have graphical interfaces and storage these days, icons can get whacked, files deleted, etc.
And almost all newer phones have the ability to access email from an Internet account. That means they can download an email attachment contained in your online Inbox to your cell phone or PDA. That virus can be designed to specifically attack a cell phone or PDA, even if it’s benign to a PC or Mac.
To make matters worse, you can get infected without even taking any action, such as accessing an Internet email account. Cell phones, PDAs, etc are designed to operate wirelessly almost all the time. They’d be practically useless otherwise.
As a result, they often have a common set of ‘protocols’, such as Bluetooth, that allow them to interoperate seamlessly with other devices. Many use the Symbian operating system. A percentage use a version of Windows Mobile. SMS text messaging is another possible route of infection.
That provides a known, commonly used platform and a standard wireless connection to other devices. Those elements make it fairly simple for virus distributors to infect one mobile device simply by standing within 30 feet of another. When you’re out in public, at the airport for example, there are lots of times when one cell phone or PDA is near another.
Protect these devices the same way you would a PC at home. Use a mobile anti-virus application and disable ‘open’ Bluetooth ports on your cell phone or PDA. Check with your manufacturer for more specific tips on how to protect your particular device.