Mobile Industry Sees New Security Risks

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Security systems can now block the firstcomputer viruses attack on cell phones, but the mobile industry seesnew risks stemming from upcoming open software platforms such asGoogle’s Android.

Since 2004, viruses have been able to disable phones or swell phonebills through pricey messages or unwanted calls, leading to a newsecurity technology market.

"If Android becomes a fully open platform … and when such aplatform becomes more common, risks are greater than with the currentplatform kings such as Symbian," said Mikko Hypponen, head of researchat security software firm F-Secure.

Security specialists also pointed to potential risks arising fromApple’s plans to open its software platform to third party developersthis month.

"Apple has dealt very elegantly in the past with security issues.There will be issues. Apple will fix them," said Jan Volzke, globalmarketing head at McAfee’s mobile unit.

Roughly 65 percent of all smartphones sold in the fourth quarterused software from British supplier Symbian, according to research firmCanalys.

Apple was fourth largest vendor with 7 percent of the market, following Microsoft and RIM.

F-Secure and McAfee have been the leading security software vendorsfor mobiles, but many other anti-virus firms rolled out products forthe mobile industry over the last few years.

While the risk of a cell phone getting infected is still relatively small, thousands of phones have seen problems.

"Although the first problems were already quite extensive andappeared all over the world, current smartphones from the largestdevice makers, particularly Nokia, have got rid of these problems,"said F-Secure’s Hypponen.

Almost three out of four users were concerned about the safety ofusing new mobile services, showed a survey of 2,000 cell phone users,commissioned by McAfee, and unveiled this week at the Mobile WorldCongress in Barcelona.

"Concerns about specific mobile security risks or … reliability ofservices is a crucial issue for operators, particularly in maturemarkets," Victor Kouznetsov, senior vice president at McAfee’s mobileunit, said in a statement.

Mobile service providers are increasingly betting on new dataservices when looking for growth in mature markets where call pricesare falling.

"Consumer fears are growing in tandem with increased mobilefunctionality," Kouznetsov said, adding this puts at risk the potentialrevenue from new services.

One in seven global mobile users have already been exposed to mobileviruses, either directly or they know someone whose phone has beeninfected, McAfee’s study showed.

Since the first mobile virus appeared in 2004 the number ofdifferent viruses, worms or other types of malware has reached 395,F-Secure said, adding that the number of malware has increased onlyslightly in the last 12 months.

(Additional reporting by Sami Torma; Editing by Jason Neely)

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