Blended threats hit smartphones

The promise of love, or at least a chance to find it, is the prime motivator behind a new spate of viruses written especially for mobile phones.

The virus propagates through an SMS (Short Message Service) sent to a mobile phone thanking the user for subscribing to a fake dating service. The message warns they will be charged $2 per day until they cancel the subscription on an online site.

The Web site, however, prompts users to download malicious code as part of the unsubscribe service, and even provides walkthroughs on how to circumvent security prompts in Internet Explorer after users attempt to unsubscribe.

The targetted mobile telephone number is spammed from a "commercial grade" application.

Joel Camissar, Australia and New Zealand manager for Websense, said it has not yet been able to determine accurately the Australian infection rate, but the virus is a variant of code first seen in August last year named Dumador.

Camissar said the virus is successful because even the least PC-savvy person is concerned about having extra phone charges of $2 per day.

"By attempting to unsubscribe, victims are unwittingly getting tricked into downloading malicious code," Camissar said.

"This particular incident shows just how difficult it is to prevent such a sophisticated, social engineered attack using both the mobile and Web.

"We're seeing the next evolution of blended threats exploiting a new attack vector, which is SMS over a mobile phone."

Andrew Dutton, Computer Associates senior vice president and EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) general manager, said the company is actively concentrating on security of smartphones and mobile phones as they are increasingly used for transactions and payments.

Dutton said the rollout of CA's eTrust Antivirus as used in the i-mate device sold in Dubai, was done specifically to ensure confidence in both using the devices and for secure transactions.

James Turner, Frost Sullivan security analyst said securing mobile phones has to be confronted exactly the same way as with PCs and desktops - through existing gateway security.

"But you need network intrusion prevention systems to protect from the latest malware, and this is an interesting argument for network service providers to get behind the clean pipe message," Turner said.

"They [service providers] need to not only check normal bandwidth but for mobiles phones, 3G or whatever.

"Social engineers always find ways to exploit gaps in systems as that is what they do."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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