Once relegated to the status of Internet hoax, cell phone viruses are real and likely to grow to the level of more then just nuisance.
As cell phone use grows, as fewer users retain land lines (and so increase dependence) and as cell phones become ever more interactive, cell phone will be an increasingly attractive target for cell phone virus developers.Let’s keep in mind that hackers create all viruses and eventually cell phone viruses for one of 3 interrelated reasons that can be summed up generally as:
Bragging Rights – people who create viruses are likely to surround themselves with a virtual peer-group of other virus creators. Sarah Gordon has some interesting observations on the difference between virus writers and hackers here.
The Big Bang Theory – people who write viruses like to watch the disaster unfold, watch it spread, look for media coverage, etc.
New Age Vandalism – people who create viruses are akin to vandals, graffiti artists, taggers, etchers and any other group who uses property destruction as a form of protest, communications and art.
Regardless of ‘Why’, the reality is that cell phone viruses are likely to be created for any or all of the above reasons. Cell phone antivirus is already used widely in Japan, with McCafee’s cell phone antivirus included in all phones from NTTDoCoMo. .
John Pescatore, an analyst with technology research firm Gartner, quoted in the Washington Post said malicious programs will be as much a problem for cell phones in 2006 as they are for computers today. “First it will be a nuisance,” he said. “The next phase will be crime, like theft or theft of service, and then after that we’ll start seeing different types of attacks” that bring down networks, he said.
One of the reasons that cell phone antivirus software has already been introduced in Japan is that the Japanese market was an early adopter of cell phone technology and specifically cell phone enhancements. They have progressed further along the adoption curve then U.S. markets. The fact that Japanese phones already include cell phone antivirus should be a red flag for U.S. cell phone users.
While cell phone technology use in the Unites States has grown rapidly, the adoption of cell phone browsers, cell phone cameras and other ‘tag along’ technologies has been slower. A quick search in Google or Yahoo for ring tones will show you how much this has changed. Users (some of them not particularly computer or cell phone security adept) have increasingly begun to interact with their cell phone OS, loading wallpaper, ring tones and other cell phone enhancements. This level of interaction opens cell phones to a variety of viruses and other wireless security threats.
Two of the more well know technology ‘laws’ or observations, Moore’s Law and Metcalf’s Law impact the potential for continued cell phone viruse development. While the value and accuracy of these ‘laws’ is often debated, the essence of these two observations are valuable when evaluating any continuing trend in technology adoption. In their simplest form Moore’s and Metcalf’s Laws suggest two ides; that technology will continue to get faster, smaller, cheaper and that the more people who use a given technology the more value that technology has. This growth in value is exponential not linear. We have seen the first aspect of these observations come true for cell phones. The price and size has decreased while the value (functionality) has increased. As the second portion bears out, continued adoption (dependence) will lead to increased attention from those who live to make their mark via cell phone viruses.