NAI offering aims to protect PDAs

Network Associates Inc.’s McAfee division released new software Monday that’s designed to protect corporate networks from viruses carried on PDAs (personal digital assistants) and other handheld computers.

Called McAfee VirusScan Handheld, the software aims to help companies deal with the growing number of staff who use PDAs to transfer files between their PC at work and at home.

Users can easily download a virus in a Word or Excel file to their PDA from their home PC, and then introduce the virus into their corporate network when they synchronize the device with their PC at work, said Ryan McGee, product marketing manager for VirusScan.

“Handheld devices are almost as dangerous to a corporate network as the floppy disk,” McGee said.

McAfee’s new product is installed on a user’s PC at work and on their PDA, and scans all files for viruses as the files are transferred to and from the PC. The software checks for “all the regular types of viruses you’d be able to check for using a PC version of the product,” McGee said.

The VirusScan Handheld product can be downloaded to a PC from the Web and installs itself the next time the PDA and the PC are synchronized. The software updates itself automatically over the Internet, and is available for each of the four main device platforms: Palm Inc.’s Palm OS, Microsoft Corp.’s Pocket PC and Windows CE, and Symbian Ltd.’s EPOC.

McAfee VirusScan Handheld is essentially the same product that the company already offers for home users, but is priced and packaged for businesses, McGee said. Pricing starts at US$12 per device for 5,000 devices.

The product is initially available only in English. “We do have an eye toward going global with this product, but I don’t have any availability dates set yet,” McGee said.

While McAfee’s software may keep viruses from being passed between a handheld computer and a corporate network, what it won’t do is prevent viruses from being delivered wirelessly to the PDA in the first place. Only one or two significant viruses have hit wireless PDAs and cell phones, but many industry watchers see wireless as the next big challenge for security software vendors — and for hackers.

“As virus writers become more versed in writing for that (wireless) environment,” offering protection against viruses delivered over the airwaves will become “critical,” McGee said.

“We’re working on that challenge and we hope to introduce a product soon, hopefully before the virus writers get there,” McGee said. “We’re challenged in (the wireless) environment with the processor power and the memory that’s available to us. The good side is that the virus writers are challenged by those restrictions, too.”

F-Secure Corp., one of McAfee’s rivals, became one of the first vendors to offer antivirus software for wireless devices. F-Secure’s Mobile Scanner Technology, announced last month, works with wireless devices based on the EPOC platform. Symantec Corp. has also shown an early version of an antivirus product for wireless devices., based in Sunnyvale, Calif., can be reached at