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Study: Smartphone Viruses Could Become Significant Threat

iPhone Release
iPhone Release

April 14, 2009 By

Photo: IPhone's first release at MacWorld EXPO 2007.

In the latest issue of Science magazine, scientists at Northeastern and Harvard Universities detail results of a new study that predicts that once a brand name smartphone reaches a 10% market share, it will become the target of significant computer viruses.

Northeastern University physicist Albert-László Barabási and his co-authors tracked the spreading potential of Bluetooth and multimedia messaging service (MMS) viruses and predict that these viruses will become a real threat to users of iPhone, Blackberry and similar smartphones once any operating system reaches a thresh hold in its market share.

Barabási is distinguished professor of physics and director of the Center for Complex Network Research (CCNR) at Northeastern University.

In conducting the study, the authors quantitatively assessed the spreading dynamics of mobile viruses by modeling the location, the mobility and the communication patterns of mobile phone users.

Bluetooth and MMS viruses spread differently. Bluetooth viruses spread in the immediate vicinity of the device, so widespread transmission happens slowly. On the other hand, MMS viruses can spread rapidly by sending itself to people in the phone's address book.

"It may seem to many of us that smartphones are everywhere but the truth is that the smartphone user base is not only small, but it is highly fragmented into many small isolated islands, making a major virus outbreak impossible at the moment," said Barabási in a press statement. "Once smartphones become more widely used and one of the operating systems increases it market share to a certain percentage, the users of that system will all become susceptible to mobile viruses within a matter of minutes."

The researchers also examine the possibility of hybrid viruses, designed to use both Bluetooth and MMS phone lists to spread. The aim of the study is to assess potential risks, both now and in the foreseeable future.

"The understanding of the basic spreading patterns presented in our study could help estimate the realistic risk carried by mobile viruses and aid the development of proper measures to avoid the costly impact of major outbreaks," added Pu Wang in the statement. He was lead author of the study.

"The rapid growth of the number of smartphones and the growing market share of the operating systems can soon lead to a mobile virus outbreak that will likely overshadow the disruption caused by traditional computer viruses," predicts Wang.

Photo David Pham. CC Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic


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