READ MORE:The phenomenal visibility of Apple's iPhone may spell the end of the cell-phone industry's age of innocence. Mobiles have been largely immune to the viruses and other "malware" now inflicted on PCs at the rate of 15,000 per day (up from five per month in 1990). So far, there has yet to be a major cell-phone virus.
Security experts worry, however, that all the excitement surrounding Apple's newest device will work on hackers like a red rag to a bull. "The hype around the iPhone's launch makes it almost certain that virus writers will attempt attacks if only to impress their cybermates," says Graham Cluley, consultant at the Web security firm Sophos.
So far most phones haven't been smart enough to support truly destructive viruses, which generally require a broadband connection to the Internet and a hefty memory. The popular BlackBerrys and Treos aren't vulnerable because most are issued by companies whose IT departments impose strict limitations on what employees are allowed to download. The phone viruses in circulation at presentmostly variations on just two main worms, Cabir and Commwarriorcan function only on a handful of smart phones that run the Symbian operating system. Both viruses require the phone user to accept the invading malware because the phones they target aren't capable of doing so automatically. As a result, neither virus has reached even close to epidemic proportions, leading technology experts to label them "proof of concept" viruses, rather than genuine threats. The iPhone, however, operates more like a computer than any mainstream mobile device ever has. It has a Web browser that works like a PC's, and it supports advanced applications like iTunes.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs acknowledges the problem. "People are going to try and break in," he said at the iPhone's London launch, "and it's our job to try and stop them." So far Apple isn't saying how. David Perry, global director of security education for the Internet security firm Trend Micro, isn't convinced there's an easy fix. Next year, he predicts, the world will see its first serious viral epidemic in cell phones. It will most likely make its way onto iPhone's Safari browser via the Web, and then compel the phone to call an expensive number repeatedly or download the same costly ringtone again and againrunning up a massive bill.
Is an epidemic coming to this self-described "always connected" device, with lots of processing muscle, and access to e-mail, text messaging, and Internet browsing? How hard will it hit when it arrives? Will legions of people refuse to upgrade when Apple releases the patch, because they're stuck to a specific unlock scheme, or afraid to lose installed apps not written by Apple?
I don't buy the scenario Newseek suggests for a number of reasons, but I agree that cold-hard cash is a very appealing motive. There are a number of ways to manipulate that result however, provided the virus obtains the right information.