Experts ID Virus Targeting Cellphones

Rhett Pardon
LOS ANGELES — An antivirus company says it has discovered what is believed to be the first computer virus capable of spreading over cellphone networks.

Kaspersky Labs said Tuesday it has discovered Cabir, a network worm that infects phones running Symbian wireless operating systems.

Cabir infects the Symbian operating system that is used in several makes of cellphones, particularly the Nokia brand, and breeds through new Bluetooth wireless technology.

Phones that use the Symbian software from other manufacturers, including Siemens AG, Samsung Electronics Co., and Panasonic Mobile Communications Co., a unit of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., may also be vulnerable.

When an infected file is launched, the cellphone's screen displays the word "Caribe," and the worm modifies the Symbian operating system so that Cabir is started each time the phone is turned on.

Once infected, Cabir scans for other vulnerable phones using Bluetooth wireless technology, then sends a copy of itself to the first vulnerable phone it finds, Moscow-based Kaspersky said.

So far, Kaspersky Labs says that no infections have been reported.

A Kaspersky Labs official told XBiz that the virus appears to have been developed by writers known as “29a,” an international group that creates viruses which try to show "that no technology is reliable and safe from their attacks."

A recent virus that targets Windows 64-bit operating systems — Rugrat — was written by 29a. The group also has created viruses known as Cap, Stream and Donut.

Anti-virus experts have been warning for months that cellphone viruses are set to multiply, given the increasingly diverse uses of mobile devices.

And the payload for viruses is great because of the profits spammers can make by creating worms that plant an open proxy, which the spammer then can use to forward it automatically.

The Federal Communications Commission said earlier this year that it would decide by the end of September how to keep unsolicited messages off cell phone screens.

Juniper Research says that the growing convergence of adult content on cellphones could mean huge dividends. The research firm said that international cell phone porn could reach $790 million by 2006.