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Last Updated: Friday, 2 September 2005, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
Mobiles get anti-virus protection
Screenshot of Commwarrior virus, F-Secure
More and more people are being caught out by mobile viruses
Anti-virus software for mobile phones is going on sale in the High Street.

Finnish security firm F-Secure has created the security program in reaction to the growing number of viruses that infect handsets.

Outbreaks of these viruses that hop from phone to phone have been recorded at a Live8 concert and at the World Championships in Helsinki.

Many security experts believe that phone bugs will eventually become as big a nuisance as Windows viruses.

Growing threat

Richard Hales, UK manager for F-Secure, said that although many mobile operators had software in their networks to stop viruses propagating, more protection was needed to stop the bugs jumping from phone to phone.

"Handset to handset is a good way to deliver a virus," said Mr Hales.

In recent months, more viruses for mobile phones and variants of old ones have started to appear.

Mobile viruses such as Cabir and Commwarrior can spread via the Bluetooth short range radio system found on many smart phones. Commwarrior can also spread via multimedia messaging systems.

Most of the mobile phone viruses target handsets that use the Symbian operating system. Infection can be avoided by turning off Bluetooth on smart phones.

Mr Hales said that currently only about 10% of handsets were so-called smartphones that can fall victim to these viruses. However, he said, the numbers of smartphones was going to inevitably rise making more and more people vulnerable to infection.

Outbreaks at the Live8 concert in Germany and the World Championships athletics meeting in Helsinki showed how the malicious programs can propagate when large numbers of people gather.

Ollie Whitehouse, technical manager at Symantec said the release of the anti-virus software was "timely".

"We have at least seen that the threats exist," he said.

Prior to these outbreaks in the wild, many played down the threat of mobile viruses because a lot of them only existed in the laboratory.

Code changes

Mr Whitehouse said there were still some factors limiting the spread of mobile viruses.

"None of them have been truly autonomous like worms on PCs," he said. "They always require a certain degree of user interaction."

Paula Radcliffe celebrates winning the marathon In Helsinki, AP
The World Championships in Helsinki was marked by a virus outbreak
But, he added, this limitation would likely disappear as the numbers of ways to get data in and out of phones increased.

Anti-virus software for phones was also important, he said, because the software in phones, unlike PCs, is hard to update.

On a PC a loophole can be closed by installing a patch to the operating system. This is far harder on a handset.

Handsets were increasingly becoming stores of personal data that people are loath to lose, said Mr Hales. Protecting this important data was going to become key as the numbers of mobile viruses climb.

Some security firms already produce programs that help to protect handsets.

For instance, in March this year security giant Symantec released a free download of anti-virus software for Nokia phones running the Symbian operating system.

However, F-Secure is thought to be the first to sell such a program to the mass market.

F-Secure said that its boxed anti-virus software for mobiles will be in the shops and available online from 5 September.

The software is designed for Nokia's Symbian-using smartphones.

Once installed the software keeps an eye on what is done with the phone and scans downloaded files and extras such as memory cards to ensure viruses do not sneak through.

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