How cell-phone viruses will wreck your life.

Inside the Internet.
March 22 2005 7:20 AM

The Perfect Worm

Coming soon, a cell-phone virus that will wreck your life.

(Continued from Page 1)

The percentage of smartphones is growing rapidly, though, with Microsoft and Symbian each vying to create the single, standard cell-phone operatingsystem. A monocultured world of smartphone handsets would be a virus-writer's dream—a single, massively popular piece of software to poke and prod for weaknesses and insecurities. Even worse, as Symbian, Microsoft, and their competitors stuff more whiz-bang capabilities into phones, security will suffer. It's the iron law of programming: The more ambitious the software, the more gaping holes. Once smartphones have complex enough operating systems, it won't be hard to write a worm that burrows in, harvests all your info, and squirts it out to a mailbox in Pakistan. That's precisely what virulent computer worms like Sobig and Bugbear do.

The mobile-phone industry could solve the viral problem by developing an open-source, Linux-style cellular operating system. But that's about as likely as Motorola and Nokia announcing that all your cell phone calls are going to be free. For now at least, the burden falls on you. If your phone starts offering you "Free SEX!", be strong enough to say no.

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Thanks to Mikko H. Hyppönen of F-Secure, Vincent Weaver of Symantec, Tom Pekar of Verizon Wireless, Rich Blasi of Cingular Wireless, and Greg Mastoras of Sophos.

Clive Thompson is a longtime contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired. He is the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better.

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