Mobile Virus Scaremongering – even the BBC?

Over the years, there has been varying amounts of scaremongering with regards mobile viruses. Those of us who are able to objectively look at the situation keep refuting the scares. This time, the scare is coming via the BBC World Service.

According to a Digital Planet podcast (28/04/2009), researchers from the U.S. think that mobile phone viruses are set to increase.

Says Prof. Barasbi of Northwestern University in the United States:

Once 10% of us share the same operating system, phone viruses could spread within hours via Bluetooth or text.

Scaremongering is almost always based on bits of possibilities combined with the ignoring of other facts and factors. So, let’s examine the facts and factors in this instance. I will be using the Symbian OS to illustrate my points, seeing that its a platform I am very familiar with.

Fact 1: A number of mobile OS platforrms already have more than this “critical” 10% share. Symbian had 47.1% in 4th quarter 2008; Blackberry had 19.5%; Windows Mobile 12.4%; and iPhone OS 10.7%.

On a global, all-time count, Symbian alone certainly exceeds 10% total share.

Fact 2: That a virus breakout could spread within hours via Bluetooth and SMS (or any other media) doees not mean that it will happen. Symbian OS, for example, is built up such that an application (legitimate or rogue) CANNOT be installed or run without the conscious permission of the user.

Fact 3: By definition, a virus is self-propogating. The Symbian OS does not allow this. Current “viruses” for Symbian are not actually viruses. Malware yes; virus no.

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Simply put, a Symbian phone (by way of example) cannot be infected by a virus without the phone user deliberately authorising the actions of that malware. The much talked about application signing process behind Symbian makes it very difficult for a rogue application to get into my hands.

To make this short and simple, there are mobile OS platforms that have exceeded the 10% “critical mass” presented by Prof. Barasbi that have existed for years, and the virus outbreak hasn’t happened.

It hasn’t happpened, partly because unlike PC viruses that run without permission, mobile OS platforms are generally more secure, because 3rd party applications cannot run without the permission of the user.

After years of hundreds of downloads, bluetooth messages, incoming SMS, installations (including trial runs), I am yet to face one single virus issue on any of my Symbian devices.

Caveat:
I cannot hold brief for individuals who patronise cracked applications. That is one sure way to open yourself up to mobile malware. Stay away from sites that promote hacked or cracked applications you are safe.

In addition, simply don’t accept unsolicited files via Bluetooth, SMS or MMS, and you are good. Even if you do, no mobile phone malware is able to install itself without your consent.

Mister Mobility

I started blogging about mobile in 2004 as a fun way to share my passion for gadgets and mobile services. My other interests include digital media, speaking and teaching, photography, travelling, and dancing.

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