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[ISN] McAfee takes crack at antivirus software for handhelds
From: InfoSec News (isnC4I.ORG)
Date: Tue Aug 22 2000 - 02:05:44 CDT
By Stephen Shankland
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
August 21, 2000, 1:10 p.m. PT
McAfee has begun offering antivirus software to protect devices from
the nascent threat of bugs written for handheld computers.
The new software--McAfee VirusScan Handheld--keeps known viruses from
being transmitted between a desktop computer and handheld devices
running the Palm operating system, Symbian's EPOC operating system,
and Windows CE or its successor, Pocket PC, said product marketing
manager Ryan McGee.
The product begins to address a new, largely unprotected domain where
viruses could spread. Though limited by bare-bones operating systems,
handhelds are gaining in power and popularity, and sellers are avidly
pushing devices that connect wirelessly to the Internet. A virus in
Spain called Timofonica already attacked some cell phones.
However, the antivirus software doesn't yet run on the handheld
itself. Instead, it runs only on a desktop computer and scans the
handheld device when files on the PC and handheld are synchronized,
That means the handheld is still open to virus transmission when it
exchanges information directly with the Internet or with another
Some competitors believe antivirus software can be run on the gadgets
themselves, though. Competitor Symantec has prototype antivirus
software, which runs directly on a Palm device (it's limited to
And F-Secure unveiled software two weeks ago that runs on EPOC, an
operating system designed by a cell-phone maker consortium called
Symbian for smart cell phones and other handheld devices.
The reason for McAfee's desktop approach, according to McGee, is that
on current handhelds "the operating environment is too restrictive
right now to develop software to reside on the device and scan it when
not connected to a PC."
In other words, handhelds don't have enough memory or processing power
to run full-fledged antivirus software. For example, Symantec's list
of virus definitions alone--not including the antivirus software
itself--is 2.4MB long, while the most brawny Palm devices have only
8MB of memory.
The silver lining, though, is that virus writers face the same limited
environment when trying to create bugs.
While handhelds don't suffer from known viruses, McAfee knows virus
writers are turning their attention to the new environment, McGee
said. "We expect that in a year, we'll probably see the first virus
written for the handheld environment," he said.
The chief threat is that the handhelds will act as a conduit,
transferring viruses from one desktop computer to another. For
example, a Windows CE device running a stripped-down version of
Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet software isn't capable of running the
small programs called "macros" that often are central to virus
propagation. But a person could transmit an infected file from one PC
to another with the device.
Eventually, when handhelds get more power, people will be able to run
the antivirus software directly on the handheld, McGee said.
"We've seen the Palmalone go from 1MB (of memory) initially to 8MB
now. We'll see continued development in hardware to make those devices
ever more powerful and memory loaded," he said.
The McAfee service is aimed at corporate customers and costs $25 per
handheld per year for 500 handhelds or more or $12 per handheld for
5,000 and up, the company said. Mcafee also offers a consumer version.
McAfee is a division of Network Associates.
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