RealTime IT News

Wireless Web Security: Enter Data at Your Own Risk

When you ask consumers if their PCs are protected by antivirus applications lurking on the system in search of malicious code, some of the more technically knowledgeable people will tell you confidently that they are protected by Norton or McAfee, or one of any number of security applications on the market today.

But pose the same question about their personal digital assistants, wireless pagers or any other mobile device? Yeah, right. But don't take it from the last sentence -- security software provider Central Command conducted a study this month and found that almost 99 percent of Windows CE and Palm users are not protected against nasty little buggers like the Liberty Crack viruses A and its evil sister B.

Incredible, isn't it? Not really, seeing as how the wireless industry does not yet have an iota of security standards to fall back on. This has caused some in the industry to be more than a little disturbed. According to the Central Command study, users want protection: 81 percent of the 3011 respondents surveyed said they were concerned about mobile viruses infecting their handhelds.

"A lot of these security apps are relatively new," Central Command Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Keith Peer told InternetNews.com. "People have passwords for PDAs that can be modified by hackers using an executable command. What makes mobile devices so vulnerable is that they're so open source."

Peer said that although there are about four main Palm viruses, Liberties A and B, Phage and Vapor, the ceiling for hackers to script new strains of malicious code is limitless, the black hole into which important information may be stolen, altered or lost, bottomless.

"Virus writers are focusing on making them more cross-platform," Peer said. Peer warns that, just as it did for PCs, technology will advance, paving the way for hackers to meet new challenges.

But Peer also said users looking for protection can take heart in the fact that many security software developers are gearing up for mobile device use growth with new solutions. In fact, Central Command has recently released antivirus software solutions for the Windows CE and Palm OS.

While the Palm offering may seem anticlimactic at first given the industry's current awareness of the four Palm viruses, it actually isn't. Few people were infected by the documented viruses and the ones created weren't nearly as migratory as the notorious Melissa e-mail virus that assailed PCs. And Peer's firm is ahead of the game when it comes to Windows CE, as it has been tested and approved before a virus for that device has ever been reported. Still, the anticipation may be slightly disquieting.

Certicom Corp. CEO Rick Dalmazzi told InternetNews.com he was not surprised by the lack of game plan PDA owners had when it comes to device protection. Dalmazzi said the idea of wireless security presents security applications creators with an interesting, if not nerve-racking dichotomy. He said wireless users want security, but don't want to have to get security. Come again?

Dalmazzi, whose firm supplies encryption technology for mobile computing and wireless devices, decrypted this conundrum by saying that users want security inherent in the products they buy and do not want to be troubled by buying software to stave off bugs and intruders.

"They either don't have it or don't know they have it," Dalmazzi said.

But not every person or outfit devotes their time to worrying about viruses for PDAs. CEOs such as Internet Security Solutions' skipper Chris Klaus said security for wireless internet is not only compromised by viruses, but by hackers who can tap into wireless local area networks (LANs) to wreak havoc.

Klaus said a greater threat exists at the infrastructure level, especially with such wireless technologies as Bluetooth, which is still in its infancy. Klaus said one of the biggest p