Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Protecting against the emerging threat of PDA viruses


By Jessica Lee, Nick Idler, Krista Casady, and Matthew Gundersen

Given the relative newness of the phenomenon, many businesses and individuals have not yet addressed the security threat of viruses attacking PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). However, as mobile devices become an integral part of everyday life in the twenty-first century, the threat of attacks on these devices will grow.

Analysts at the Gartner Group (at http://www.gartnergroup.com) expect crippling viruses to begin attacking PDAs by the end of 2001. Ken Dulaney of the Gartner Group has declared that virtually all companies are "totally unprotected" from virus attacks on mobile devices.

Do Kim, lead engineer for McAfee's Wireless Security Center, believes that many people will undergo substantial losses if they leave their PDAs unprotected. "Many people I know carry their lives on handheld devices. A lot of these devices contain very sensitive documentation," Kim says.

As a result, anyone who uses a PDA should be concerned. Businesses that use the devices for enterprise applications should be even more concerned. The damage that mobile viruses could inflict is enormous, especially since most handheld computers don't have security for mobile applications.


The threat of viruses infiltrating handheld devices will increase as the popularity and functionality of these devices continue to rise. This article will detail the factors increasing the vulnerability of PDAs to viruses and will describe recent attacks on such devices. The methods of delivery for viruses to a PDA (such as such as synchronization, infrared beaming, and network access) will be described in detail. Several solutions to protect users from attacks on Palm devices will be presented. The purpose of this article is to establish, based on specific evaluation criteria, which solution will provide the best virus protection for Palm OS-based devices and other handhelds in the next 18 months.


The three major operating systems for PDAs are the Palm OS, Windows CE, and EPOC. Research shows that the Palm OS comprises 80% of the U.S. market share. For this reason, this article will only address anti-virus solutions for the Palm OS. Given the rapid advancements typical of the PDA industry, we expect that the solution presented in this article will be relevant for an estimated period of 18 months.