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Smart Phones Under Cyber Attack

Where’s the app to ward off hackers? Security software for phones is a rising business.

With smart phones proliferating in the U.S., cybercriminals are coming out of the woodwork looking for sensitive information on sophisticated mobile phones packed with special apps and Web access.

Criminal activity ranges from merely annoying -- freezing or slowing phone functions -- to more serious attacks, which include retrieving or erasing phone numbers and text messages stored in phone memories and relaying viruses from phones to their owners’ company computer networks. Viruses that can quickly drain battery life are also on the loose.

Phone attacks are still rare in the U.S. but rising quickly in Asia and Europe. “We’re at the early stage of this menace,” says John Bartlemann, a computer security analyst at Boston University. “That’s because smart phones are used largely for phone and e-mail and movie times. It’ll be different when smart phones are used far more widely in connection with work and for personal banking and shopping.”

Mobile phone security will become big business in coming years. Current smart phones typically are not equipped with the same strong anti-virus and security software found in laptops and other computers.


Several companies are working on mobile phone software in anticipation of a growing smart phone security subscription market. Among the larger industry players working on smart phone security are Symantec, Motorola and Research in Motion. Some promising small companies, including Lookout in San Francisco and Trust Digital in McLean, Va., are also working on software. More will enter the fray as reports of smart phone attacks rise.

Security options in development include a remote program that will wipe out all of a phone’s stored data if the phone is lost, say at a business conference or in a cab or plane, and one that would allow a lost phone to be tracked by its manufacturer, even if it’s turned off.

Meanwhile, odds favor Congress passing two phone related measures this year. One would require wireless providers to prorate cancellation fees over the course of a cell phone customer’s contract and be more upfront about early termination fees, clearly notifying customers about fees at the time of the purchase and on monthly bills. The second would make it a federal crime to falsify, or “spoof,” names and phone numbers appearing on caller ID systems. Spoofing has been linked to numerous identity theft scams in which spoofers pretend to be from banks and persuade victims to provide bank account and other personal information over the phone. The legislation would also empower the Federal Communications Commission to set uniform national anti-spoofing regulations.

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