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First cell phone worm emerges by Celeste Biever 18:26 15 June 04 NewScientist.com

The first virus to spread from one cell phone to another has been created, the Russian anti-virus software vendor Kaspersky Labs announced on Tuesday. Cabir has no malicious capabilities and affects only a small slice of "smart" phones that run on both the sophisticated Symbian operating system and have a Bluetooth connection. It has been written by a group called 29a. The virus is an "interesting milestone", says Graham Cluley, a consultant at the anti-virus software vendor Sophos in Oxford, UK, because it is the first virus to spread through a cell phone network.

In 2000, the virus Timifonica forced infected PCs to send text messages to phones. "But this is the first virus to spread from phone to phone," says Cluley. Experts say the virus should not alarm the public because it has been circulated by researchers in a controlled laboratory setting only. There are no known cases of it "in the wild". Unlike most computer worms, Cabir does not exploit a vulnerability in the Symbian operating system. "It exploits the way the phone is supposed to work," explains Cluley.

Bluetooth transceivers automatically contact each other when they come into range, and the Symbian operating system is designed so that files can be exchanged over the Bluetooth connection. However, Cluley points out that the virus does not spread via the automatic transfer of files - this would require a vulnerability. Instead, before a phone accepts a file, it asks the owner if he wants to download it. "It is only going to be infecting people who say, yes please, hit me on the nose," Cluley told New Scientist.

But Kaspersky Labs suggest that people might accept it because the file is disguised as Security software. The Kaspersky researchers say that Cabir was written by an international group of virus writers called 29a. The group sent the code to anti-virus vendors on Tuesday, who have since verified that it can be spread from phone to phone by conducting lab tests. Although the virus is not live in the wild and has no malicious payload, experts have suggested that other virus writers could use it as a basis for a more dangerous worm.

Security experts have been warning for years that a combination of Bluetooth connections and increasingly sophisticated cell phone software would eventually lead to malicious phone viruses capable of bugging calls and deleting the phonebooks, calendars and diaries stored on smart phones. "I am uncomfortable talking about it," says Cluley. "We don't want to give virus writers too many ideas."
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