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Cell Phone Virus Strikes Santa Monica

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

February 23 -- Santa Monica has become the U.S. port of entry for the first virus capable of spreading over mobile phone networks, according to security experts.

The so-called Cabir virus, developed in a test-tube type setting months ago, infected a pair of wireless phones on display at a Santa Monica retail shop, it was announced over the weekend by F-Secure, a virus protection company.

Now the virus may be on the loose in Santa Monica, since anyone with a phone that uses "Bluetooth" frequency and a Symbian operating platform, may have been infected while passing within 100 yards of the display.

Sprint, Motorola and Nokia are among the companies that manufacture cell phones using those technologies.

"It's like a disease," said Travis Witeveen, North America’s vice president for F-Secure. "If you cough, you could give me the disease, only this time imagine a germ that can go through walls.

“These two phones on display could have infected anyone who walked by," he said.

It is not known how long the virus has been in Santa Monica, and F-Secure has not released the location and identity of the computer store, which has removed the products from display, for fear it could lose business.

Though very few cell phone models use "Bluetooth," such technology may be more widely used in Santa Monica, according to Witeveen.

"These are cutting edge phones adopted by stylish, wealthy urbanites," he said. "I'd definitely say Santa Monica falls into that category."

This is the first reported case in the United States of the Cabir virus, which can drain batteries, delete files and dial expensive numbers, according to news reports.

Though such damage was classified by Witeveen as "minimal," the wireless users may not be so lucky if a stronger worm is released in the future.

"The damage is almost nothing right now," Witeveen said. "What's dangerous is when a virus like this is spread with a more damaging payload in the future."

The virus, according to Witeveen, was first concocted by a group he classified as "hackers," known as A-29, to help mobile technology businesses find weaknesses in their products.

With computer aficionados posting information on the internet describing how to construct such a virus, Cabir was quickly manufactured and has been spreading around the globe, experts said.

According to PC World, “Cabir spreads between mobile phones using a specially formatted Symbian operating system distribution (or SIS) file disguised as a security management utility.

“When the infected file is launched, the mobile phone's screen displays the word ‘Caribe’ and the worm modifies the Symbian operating system so that Cabir is started each time the phone is turned on.

“Once it has infected a mobile phone, Cabir scans for other phones using Bluetooth wireless technology, then sends a copy of itself to the first vulnerable phone it finds,” according to a security expert quoted in PC World.

Short of buying technology to counteract such viruses, Witeveen has advised users with Bluetooth to shut the feature off on their cell phone to avoid infection.

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