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Mobile malware menace hits high - McAfee

Should telcos be scared or skeptical?

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3GSM Malware attacks across mobile networks have reached an all-time high, if figures aired by McAfee today are anything to go by.

Four in five mobile operators (83 per cent) were hit by mobile device infections last year, according to a study by analyst group Informa. In addition, the number of reported security incidents in 2006 was more than five times as high as in 2005.

The McAfee-sponsored study, published on Monday during the 3GSM World Congress, seeks to portray a picture of mobile operators fending off an increasing number of malware attacks. The study suggests that mobile malware is having an effect on customer satisfaction and network performance.

Such a conclusion fits neatly with McAfee's plans to sell greater volumes of mobile anti-virus software to telcos, of course. UK mobile operators we've spoken to take the threat of malware seriously but quite how much of a problem mobile malware is, and might become, is harder to pin down.

By most estimates around 200 strains of mobile malware have been discovered. Most of these affect Symbian devices with a minority targeting smartphones running Windows Mobile. A small subset of these devices - such as Skulls - is capable of wiping data from devices.

Anti-virus researchers, quite properly, highlight the damage items of mobile malware can do. What often goes unreported is how widespread infections are, often because such data is hard to come by. The McAfee study says four in five operators experienced a mobile device infection last year.

That sounds bad, but it doesn't really shed a lot of light on how serious the problem is or isn't because it doesn't give us any idea of the number of reports. The impact of mobile viruses remains unclear.

What we can say with some degree of certainty is that there's never been an incident of an item of mobile malware spreading in a Windows PC-style epidemic. And support firms such as WDSGlobal report that calls about infections by mobile malware are almost unknown.

Against this, security firms correctly argue that as mobile devices become more like computers they are more susceptible to attack.

Register readers frequently write to us about virus infestation problems or phishing attacks, some even going so far as to report they've been duped. But I for one have never seen a report from a reader whose device has been infected by an item of mobile malware - which suggests the problem is not as bad as security vendor reports make it seem.

Unless, of course, you know different. If you've been hit by mobile malware please get in touch. ®

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