Tuesday, January 2, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 2, 2001

Vendors gear up for mobile bug invasion

USA Today

The magazine advertisement for an anti-virus computer software company shows a giant bug ready to pounce on a man using a hand-held computer.

The message: computer viruses aren’t just for personal computers anymore. Now, mobile devices such as hand-held computers and cell phones are at risk.

The threat is real — but it won’t be much of a problem for at least a year, experts say. The mobile devices are not yet powerful enough to allow viruses to thrive.

"Today’s (virus warnings) are pretty much pure vendor hype," said John Pescatore, research director for Gartner, an analyst firm that predicts viruses will begin to affect hand-held users by the end of 2001 and cell-phone users by mid-2002.

More than 120 million people will own Web-enabled cell phones or hand-held computers by 2005, according to industry research firm Yankee Group, and anti-virus vendors are preparing for the onslaught.

McAfee.com began selling anti-virus programs for hand-helds in August. Symantec established a new division in December to create anti-virus programs to be run by service providers. The programs, which may be released in six months, will be designed to allow wireless-related companies to prevent viruses from being sent to users.

Three viruses, found last fall, already exist for the popular Palm operating system, which is installed on hand-helds sold by Palm, Handspring, and Sony. They were largely contained within the research community, yet provide a glimpse of the future.

Phage fills the hand-held’s screen with a dark gray box. Vapor, which was not technically a virus but a program that appears to be something it is not, makes icons disappear. LibertyCrack attempts to delete applications.

McAfee.com considers Phage, Vapor and LibertyCrack to be "low risk" because they are not easily spread. Most viruses are passed through e-mail attachments. Very few of today’s hand-helds can handle attachments, so it is difficult to pass a virus. That makes them unpopular among virus programmers.

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