October - December 2006 Vol 2 Issue 11
Brainwave      Insight      Technova      Perspective      X'Pressions     



How do you visualize the new age mobile phones of today? Certainly your answer will be the mobile phone that is having Bluetooth data transfer technology, mobile enabled with java technology. Some may also go further and visualize the phone having GPS facility. Today mobiles are coming with their new mobile OS such as Symbian OS which is widely used by companies like Nokia, Erricson and many more. The worldwide market for mobile phones is still growing at a very fast rate with phenomenal 32% in 2004, and with an estimated 1.5 billion people (or 1/4 of the world's population) already owning a mobile phone. In this new scenario has anyone thought about the potential attacks that could be made through the mobiles? Welcome to the new world of viruses that spread through the GPS and Bluetooth facilities of mobile phones!!

The first case of mobile phone virus appeared in June 2004 for the Symbian OS, but it proved to be relatively harmless. Subsequent OS versions have significantly improved capabilities, but they're still very low risk. Most interestingly, they all use Bluetooth to propagate. Bluetooth is a great technology for connecting small devices that are close to one another, but therein is also its disadvantage: with a few exceptions, the technology has a very limited range. Bluetooth lets you connect your mobile phone to your computer. It lets you sync your calendar and address book, and of course, allows for the transfer of arbitrary data. Thus in fact all the devices can be accessed through this Bluetooth technology.

This is where the greatest threat is! With Bluetooth an infected file can be distributed simultaneously to all the devices in it’s proximity. Mobiles enabled with GPS facility can cause much large scale of virus infection spread. After all, the virus can access the address book stored on the mobiles. Now just imagine, as the smart phones( mobiles that are equipped with new facilities and technologies such as file storage, personal information storage, internet transacting facility, certificates and key storages and many more in the queue) are being launched into market after regular short intervals, what the great threat we are living in! In fact our current mobiles are at such low risk bearance state that if a proper attack of virus is there on mobiles, whole working of the world will came to halt.

Why is mobile virus important to anyone? There is clearly a profit motive, and that's all that is needed to kick start another dubious industry. From a virus that will dial 1-900 numbers all day long, to the one that automatically buys a hundred ring tones that get added to your phone bill, there is money to be made by the next wave of miscreants. In Asia, Telco’s have already begun testing e-commerce transactions that are available through mobiles. Where there's e-commerce, we can say for sure that there will be viruses and security threats. With such embedded purchase power, it is now a right time to look toward this happening threat.

Common mobile viruses:-

Cabir: Infects mobile phones running on Symbian OS. When a phone is infected, the message 'Caribe' is displayed on the phone's display and is displayed every time the phone is turned on. The worm then attempts to spread to other phones in the area using wireless Bluetooth signals

Duts: A parasitic file infector virus and is the first known virus for the PocketPC platform. It attempts to infect all EXE files in the current directory (infects files that are bigger than 4096 bytes)

Skulls: A trojan horse piece of code. Once downloaded, the virus, called Skulls, replaces all phone desktop icons with images of a skull. It also renders all phone applications, including SMSes and MMSes useless

Comwar: First worm to use MMS messages in order to spread to other devices. Can spread through Bluetooth too. It infects devices running under OS Symbian Series 60. The executable worm file once launched hunts for accessible Bluetooth devices and sends the infected files under a random name to various devices.

Mobiles have been with us for a long time, but in a way the wireless industry feels like the computer industry was back in the 1980s. With at least 30 mobile virus variants today for the Symbian OS alone, many people will be surprised at how easy it will be to carry around malcode clipped to their belt in the years to come.

by Manish Srivastav, MBA IIITA
Vaibhav Mishra, MBA IIITA