Wednesday, May 11, 2005

RP operators act on mobile phone virus scare

By Erwin Lemuel Oliva

MOBILE phone operators Smart Communications and Globe Telecom sprung into action on Tuesday to prevent further escalation of a supposed mobile phone virus scare in the country.

Ramon Isberto, head of Smart's public affairs, said that the company is set to issue an advisory on Wednesday to its subscribers to stop further spread of at least two known mobile phone viruses.

Jones Campos, public relations head of Globe Telecom, meanwhile e-mailed a "tip for mobile phone users" provided by vendor Nokia Philippines.

An e-mail message forwarded by Nokia to Globe indicated that it has been receiving a number of calls and messages on the virus that has been spreading via Bluetooth, a short-range radio technology that allows devices to interconnect.

For his part, Jamz Yaneza, TrendLabs senior anti-virus consultant was surprised at the mobile phone virus scare in the country.

"It appears as just that, a scare. Clean up services for mobile phone viruses are still big business in Greenhills (a famous shopping center in San Juan, Manila). It might be a repackaged mobile phone virus" Yaneza told

He added that there’s possibility this mobile phone virus scare is a hoax.

Still, he warned local subscribers to be careful with installing unknown programs in their mobile handsets. "Some of these mobile phone viruses are repackaged as applications," he added.

"A point of caution: Cabir – one of the popular mobile phone viruses -- is readily available on the Internet. It can always be recompiled and spread by people. But on the other virus known as ‘Commwarriors,’ we have not seen or heard [of] any incidents in the Philippines," the anti-virus consultant said.

TrendlLabs does not have a central repository of reports and incidents of mobile phone virus infections in the Philippines however. In most cases, users with infected phones have the viruses removed or their phones reset in little repair shop.

"They would rather go to Greenhills to have the phone reset. They don't report it. But it's good to hear that some people are now turning off their Bluetooth these days to avoid being infected," Yaneza said.

Cabir spreads via Bluetooth, while Commwarriors uses multi-media messaging service (MMS) to infect other handsets.

According to the Nokia advisory, consumers should only approve or download content from a trusted source. Trusted sources may include operator portals and other well-known brands like the Nokia Software Market offering adequate protection against viruses and other harmful software.

"If your device gives a security warning during installation it means that the content is not signed. In this case you should carefully weigh whether the content is coming from a trusted source and whether you can install it securely," it added.

Nokia stressed that users are often prompted or warned at least 4 times before the installation of the Caribe.sis virus.

One way to remove the virus is to re-flash the handset, which involves re-formatting the unit's flash memory.

"Nokia has not yet released any other solution aside from the software re-flashing but we will keep you posted for any development," Nokia said in its advisory.

Representative Joseph Santiago of Catanduanes urged mobile phone operators this week to deal with the "flurry of text messages" saying that mobile phone viruses are fast spreading.

Santiago said that the local operators are in a position to deal with the possible scare. "The mobile phone virus scare sweeping the country is part real and part hype. In any case, network operators should be in a position to promptly deal with subscriber complaints involving a threatened or an actual infection," he said.

A former commissioner of the National Telecommunications Commission, Santiago said that while these mobile phone viruses are largely harmless, they still affect subscribers.

No comments: