Nokia adds antivirus protection to new smart phone

Finnish mobile phone manufacturer Nokia will offer mobile antivirus software through F-Secure as one of the features in its new Nokia 6670 smart phone when it is released in October, the companies announced Thursday.

The Symbian OS (operating system) smart phones will provide on-device protection, similar in fashion to antivirus protection programs for PCs, with automatic over-the-air antivirus updates for a monthly fee. The software will not come loaded into the device, but can be downloaded from the F-Secure Web site, according to Nokia spokeswoman Karoliina Lehmusvirta.

The Nokia 6670 will be the first mobile phone in its Series 60 line to offer the mobile virus protection, though users of other Series 60 mobile phones will also be able to purchase the antivirus protection software, "perhaps as early as October," Lehmusvirta said.

F-Secure is also in talks with other handset manufacturers about offering similar antivirus protection, according to Matias Impivaara, business manager for mobile security services for F-Secure of Helsinki. He declined to name any companies or set out potential dates for availability. "This announcement is a starting point for us and we have been testing the service with a variety of handsets from different vendors and in several operator networks," Impivaara said.

Nokia already offers antivirus software through F-Secure for its Communicator line of mobile devices, but Impivaara said the protection offered for the Nokia 6670 is a greatly improved version in terms of both features and pricing options.

"The first general offering for the mobile antivirus software came a couple of years ago, but this version has a whole new infrastructure," Impivaara said. "For example, it has a patented SMS (short message service) update mechanism and HTTPS (Hypertext Transport Protocol Secure) connections. Plus, there is a big difference in the actual client."

The monthly pricing plan is also a first for F-Secure, Impivaara said. The first month of the service will be free trial period and thereafter, users will be charged a licensing fee that will include the cost of updates, he said. "Before you paid on a yearly basis, but by paying monthly, you just buy the protection that you need," Impivaara said.

The final decision about pricing has yet to be made but will be finalized by the time the phone ships "some time in October," Impivaara said. According to the company's current estimates, the antivirus mobile protection licence will cost about Euro 2.95 (US$3.62) per month, but early buyers will most likely be offered a discounted price of Euro 1.95 per month, Impivaara said.

The Nokia 6670 will come in two tri-band versions, optimized for GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Asia) markets (on 900MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz bands), and in the Americas (on 850MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz bands). Both versions will be able to roam in GSM networks across regions.

Nokia is also offering addition security through its mobile VPN (virtual private network) client and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption for Web-based applications. Lehmusvirta stressed that there is nothing about the Nokia 6670 that makes it particularly susceptible to viruses and that Nokia knows of no capabilities within any of its devices that a virus might exploit.

"The rational behind the phone is as a smart phone targeted at business users who use data in their daily work, and we want to offer them some security for that data," Lehmusvirta said. "There has been a common perception for many years by the entire industry that mobile devices will become a target of viruses, though to date this kind of threat is small. We want to begin protecting against it now."

After a series of three malicious program targeting wireless devices were discovered in between June and August, security specialists stepped up their warnings of the pending possibility of serious attacks against mobile phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants).

In June, Antivirus company Kaspersky Labs said it discovered Cabir, a network worm infecting phones running the Symbian mobile phone operating system by Symbian. At the time, the company characterized Cabir as the first-ever computer virus capable of spreading over mobile phone networks.

Cabir was followed in August by the discovery of the so-called Backdoor.Bardor.A virus, a Windows CE Trojan horse program designed to give attackers control over Pocket PC mobile devices. A few days later, a Symbian Trojan program infecting phones using the Series 60 user-interface platform cropped up with the ability to make the phones send text messages without the knowledge of the user.

"The threats we saw for the first time this summer have not been big ones, but it was a proof of concept in a way," Impivaara said. "It shows the point that hackers and virus writers are targeting all types of mobile handsets. There is no reason to panic, but it is good to be ready, to prepare for the future with protective insurance. We learned that from the PC world."

F-Secure claims its mobile antivirus software service is the first commercially available product for protecting Symbian OS smart phones but IDC analyst Paolo Pescatore said similar programs can be expected in the very near future. "I can't say for sure this is the first such product, it may be, but there are a number of companies out there that have been looking at antivirus and antispam programs and those aren't far off," Pescatore said.

With the convergence of both the fixed and the wireless worlds, comes the increasing need to monitor not just for malicious code but also for an influx of spam that could clog up networks, Pescatore said. "It isn't an issue today, but it's a potential issue that could exist down the line."

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