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Mac security firm ships first-ever iPhone malware scanner

Lets iOS device owners do 'on-demand' scans of file attachments

July 12, 2011 11:49 AM ET

Computerworld - A French security company known for its Mac OS X antivirus software today released the first malware-scanning app for the iPhone and iPad and iPod touch.

Intego's VirusBarrier for iOS has been approved by Apple, and debuted on the App Store Tuesday for $2.99.

Because iOS prevents the program from accessing the file system or conducting automatic or scheduled scans -- as do virtually all Mac and Windows antivirus software -- VirusBarrier must be manually engaged, and then scans only file attachments and files on remote servers, said Peter James, a spokesman for Intego.

"Because of the sandbox, you can't scan the file system," said James. "Since you don't see the iOS file system, the only things you can scan are attachments sent by email or files in, say, your Dropbox folder."

Unlike software written for Android -- such as Lookout, from the San Francisco-based company by the same name -- VirusBarrier cannot scan apps for possible infection.

When an email attachment is received by the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, the user can intercede by calling on VirusBarrier, which then scans the file for possible infection before the file is opened or forwarded to others.

"We've had enterprise customers say that although they know you can't do a full system scan of an iPhone, they don't like the fact that files go through these devices and end up on a Mac or Windows PC," said James. "They want their users to be able to check that an attachment is safe."

He characterized VirusBarrier for iOS as a way for iPhone and iPad users to prevent their hardware from spreading malware. "You don't want your iPhone becoming a 'Typhoid Mary,'" James said.

VirusBarrier for iOS can scan email attachments in a variety of formats, including Microsoft's Word, Excel and PowerPoint; PDF documents; JavaScript files; and Windows executables, those files tagged with the .exe extension. It can also scan files in a Dropbox folder, those stored on MobileMe's iDisk, or files downloaded via the iOS version of Safari.

The scanning engine and signatures -- the digital "fingerprints" used to detect malware -- in VirusBarrier for iOS are identical to those used by Intego's Mac OS X product line.

VirusBarrier for iOS
VirusBarrier for iOS lets iPhone and iPad users run on-demand scans of email attachments before those files are opened or forwarded. (Graphic: Intego.)

"It's important that people understand what [VirusBarrier] can and cannot do," said James, pointing to the malware scanner's limitations. "Although there is no malware written for iOS today, if attackers do try to exploit the [recent] PDF vulnerability, this is something we can scan for."

James was referring to the still-unpatched vulnerability in iOS that can be exploited through a malicious PDF document, one of two bugs used last week to "jailbreak" an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

VirusBarrier for iOS can be downloaded to an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch from Apple's App Store. It requires iOS 4.0 or later.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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