Protecting Your Phone

The best way to protect yourself from cell-phone viruses is the same way you protect yourself from computer viruses: Never open anything if you don't know what it is, haven't requested it or have any suspicions whatsoever that it's not what it claims to be. That said, even the most cautious person can still end up with an infected phone. Here are some steps you can take to decrease your chances of installing a virus:

  • Turn off Bluetooth discoverable mode. Set your phone to "hidden" so other phones can't detect it and send it the virus. You can do this on the Bluetooth options screen.
  • Check security updates to learn about filenames you should keep an eye out for. It's not fool-proof -- the Commwarrior program generates random names for the infected files it sends out, so users can't be warned not to open specific filenames -- but many viruses can be easily identified by the filenames they carry. Security sites with detailed virus information include: F-Secure, McAfee and  Symantec.
  • Some of these sites will send you e-mail updates with new virus information as it gets posted.
  • Install some type of security software on your phone. Numerous companies are developing security software for cell phones, some for free download, some for user purchase and some intended for cell-phone service providers. The software may simply detect and then remove the virus once it's received and installed, or it may protect your phone from getting certain viruses in the first place. Symbian has developed an anti-virus version of its operating system that only allows the phone's Bluetooth connection to accept secure files.

Although some in the cell-phone industry think the potential problem is overstated, most experts agree that cell-phone viruses are on the brink of their destructive power. Installing a "security patch" that ends up turning your phone into a useless piece of plastic is definitely something to be concerned about, but it could still get worse. Future possibilities include viruses that bug phones -- so someone can see every number you call and listen to your conversations -- and viruses that steal financial information, which would be a serious issue if smartphones end up being used as payment devices (see Bankrate.com: Paying by cell phone on the way). Ultimately, more connectivity means more exposure to viruses and faster spreading of infection. As smartphones become more common and more complex, so will the viruses that target them.

For more information on cell-phone viruses and related topics, check out the links on the next page.