Yet Another Worldwide Virus Scare That Wasn't
By Mike Masnick, Wed Mar 09 03:00:00 GMT 2005

Yet another mobile virus is making the news, but the press still hasn't recognized that most of these stories are hyped up well beyond the actual threat level.

Seeing one more mobile virus scare is nothing new. They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors these days -- often with little to back up the fear mongering other than some quotes from anti-virus software firms and maybe a healthy misunderstanding of the technology at hand. What's unfortunate, however, is the fact that the technology press still hasn't learned to ask a few basic questions every time these stories start making the rounds -- especially when they're initiated by anti-virus firms, who obviously have ulterior motives for pushing virus scare stories.

The latest such story involves the new CommWarrior virus which transmits itself via MMS. It is, indeed, a step up the virus ladder beyond Bluetooth in terms of its ability to transmit itself from phone to phone. However, the details again suggest that the threat level is quite low.

However, that's not going to stop the press from blaring out headlines claiming: Mobile phone virus could go global in minutes. That report is, again, based entirely off of news from a single anti-virus provider. Apparently no one asked why it didn't actually "go global" in minutes. In fact, this particular virus has apparently been in the wild for months -- and this is the first people are hearing about it. It certainly doesn't sound like the nuclear winter scenario suggested by the initial headline.

Rather than issuing a correction, however, the same publication came out with another article the next day blaming a design flaw for the lack of global mobile viral dominance on the part of this particular virus. Once again, there's a single source for the info: the same anti-virus firm who is quoted as saying: "if it operated at peak efficiency we would all have had it by now." Of course, in the very next sentence, the same anti-virus representative completely contradicts himself on that point by saying that the fact that not many people use MMS also explains why it hasn't really spread very far. In other words, it wasn't really that big of a threat, because most people couldn't have received it. Doesn't seem quite as scary any more, does it?

That's not to say mobile viruses won't be an issue, or that measures should be taken to protect handsets from malicious attacks. However, the level of hype surrounding each one of these virus stories is misleading and ultimately dangerous. People are going to be scared off from using their phones when a little bit of education and caution will ensure that they're perfectly safe.