Downadup: Expert worries about smart phone, TinyURL threats

Malware writers just waiting for financial incentive to strike, F-Secure exec warns.

What spooks Runald going forward is that unlike more mature mobile OSes from Microsoft and Symbian that were built from the ground up for use in phones, those from the likes of Apple and Google are derived from more general OSes. The Linux kernel, at the heart of Google Android, has its share of vulnerabilities and comes packed with features that aren't necessarily needed in a mobile device, such as telnet access (not to say Linux isn't maturing as well, he adds).

"In a way, we've already seen more serious vulnerabilities in the iPhone in a year and a half than we've seen in the whole life of Symbian and Windows mobile OSes," Runald says. "It shows the difficulty of squeezing these operating systems into small phones and making sure you only have the necessary parts that are required for the phone to work."

Runald has similar concerns about new mobile browsers. But given that smart phone-based Web browsing -- and in particular mobile electronic commerce -- is in its early stages still, malware writers haven't had much incentive to strike.

Runald says he is encouraged that enterprise IT staffs are getting out in front of mobile phone threats. "It's not going to be like it was for laptops," he says. "Up until Blaster and Sasser, how many people used laptops without a firewall? Pretty much everyone."

Social network security dangers

One other security hot button for Runald is social network malware threats, and he cautions in particular about the potential for malware writers to exploit shortened URLs such as the TinyURLs commonly used to squeeze down Twitter messages to 140 characters.

The problem is that many users can eyeball a regular URL these days and have a sense of whether it might be bogus. Not so with TinyURLs, which appear as more random collections of letters and digits and could be used to hide links to spam or malware even though TinyURL expressly prohibits this.

"It would be trivial for the bad guys to use these," he says. "We've only found one example of malware so far, back in October and mainly targeted at Brazil, though it was still active earlier this week. We got a hold of TinyURL and they closed it down."

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