mocoNews - Researchers Say Smartphone Adoption Could Facilitate A Tidal Wave Of Mobile Viruses

Tricia Duryee
Friday, April 24, 2009; 1:59 PM

If there are more than 600 mobile viruses in existence today, Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, a director for Northeastern University's Center for Complex Network Research asks: "Why haven't I ever got one?"

Barabasi told BBC News that it's not for lack of sophistication?mobile phone viruses have reached a technical level of achievement over the past two years that computer viruses took more than two decades to reach. To answer his own question, he arrived at a theory known as "percolation transition," which is sort of like six degrees of separation. It's a moment that everyone who could conceivably have given a virus will get it.

The two main ways to transmit a virus is through MMS, which carriers can typically block quickly, and Bluetooth, which is limited because phones must literally come in contact with an infected phone. But overwhelmingly what's prohibiting transmissions is fragmentation. Barabasi: "Right now, we're under the percolation threshold. Only 5 percent of users have smartphones and even those are fragmented into different operating systems?the largest one doesn't even reach 3 percent of the overall market?We predict that once any operating system reaches 10 percent of the whole user market, then the percolation transition will happen, and then the [viruses] will spread everywhere." In this scenario, a MMS wouldn't necessarily reach every single handset with a given operating system, but they would cast a wide net before operators have time to respond.

Carlo Longino at Techdirt pokes a couple of holes in the theory: "First, the market share figure doesn't make a lot of sense, given that platforms like Nokia's Series 40 already feature in hundreds of millions of devices, creating a large target population. Second, MMS messages still have to travel through operators' servers, so they're much easier to scan for malware than PC-based communications."

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