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2/13/2006
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McAfee Debuts Security Tools For Mobile Devices

Threats will grow as devices proliferate, wireless data networks become faster, and hackers become more experienced.

McAfee Inc. Monday rolled out a security software platform for mobile devices, wrapping anti-virus, firewall, content filtering, anti-spam, and anti-spyware capabilities into a single package.

McAfee, a provider of intrusion prevention and risk management software, says it created VirusScan Mobile to address the growing number of security threats against mobile devices, such as viruses, worms, and Trojans. Many smart phones and PDAs now come standard with advanced functions, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Web browsing capabilities, which makes them vulnerable to those threats, says Drew Carter, senior product manager of mobile initiatives at McAfee.

McAfee claims it has the strongest mobile security portfolio compared to its competitors. For example, VirusScan Mobile can scan messages for threats and comes with a firewall that monitors all incoming and outgoing traffic. Mobile devices are vulnerable to attacks because users aren't behind a firewall, says Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Aberdeen Group.

Additionally, VirusScan Mobile supports feature phones, the standard lower-end cell phones. Other mobile security vendors design their products only around mobile devices with operating systems. The McAfee virus scans don't consume a lot of the devices' processing power, which means users can continue browsing the Web or using applications while the scans are working.

In the past two years, several mobile viruses have emerged. In 2004, a Symbian worm called Cabir appeared that replicated through an active Bluetooth connection. Later that year, Pocket PCs became targets of attacks called Duts, which spread each time infected programs were exchanged. In 2005, the Skulls virus shook smart-phone owners by disabling applications and replacing icons with skulls, disabling all functions on the phone except for incoming and outgoing calls.

Symbian phones, which are popular in Europe, are affected by mobile malware most often, but threats on the Microsoft platform are increasing as well, says Carter. That includes Microsoft's recently launched Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system. "If you have an operating system or applications with known vulnerabilities, then you're exposed as soon as you're using T-Mobile from a Starbucks," says Quandt.

While security threats to mobile devices are in the early stages of their evolution, they're sure to become a bigger problem as the devices proliferate, as wireless data network speeds increase so people can download files faster on their devices, and as mobile hackers become more sophisticated, says Todd Thiemann, director of device security marketing at Trend Micro, a network anti-virus and Internet content security software company that also sells mobile security software.

Other mobile security vendors, including F-Secure and Symantec, have similar offerings on the market. The consensus among the vendors is that malware is growing faster on smart phones and PDAs than on desktop and laptop computers because they're constantly connected, in similar fashion to an unsecured wireless LAN. "You already can hack into a wireless LAN. People driving around can intrude into corporate networks," says Antti Vihavainen, VP of mobile security at F-Secure, "and the same can be done with Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices waiting for a connection."

Consumers and businesspeople can purchase VirusScan Mobile from McAfee for $30. McAfee is also selling an enterprise version of the software that's available for Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PCs. Manufacturers can purchase a different version of the software and embed it into mobile devices. That means in the future more devices could come standard with anti-virus and scanning capabilities.

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