Cellular providers should clean up malware to keep customers, says equipment maker

Mobile malware makes up a small percentage of the cyberthreats floating around, but no one doubts that in the near future they will significantly expand in number.

At the moment no one knows who should shoulder the responsibility for attacking them: Mobile operating system vendors, who run app stores; handset makers, whose devices  might come with built-in AV software; individuals who should be buying mobile anti-virus software and firewalls; or carriers, who sell handsets and operate networks.

A wireless operator equipment maker essentially has voted for carriers. Nokia Solutions and Networks today announced upcoming software called Mobile Guard that runs on any carrier’s network-connected server – whether or not it uses NSN gear – and scans traffic looking for abnormal behaviour.

Mobile Guard is in trials now with several European carriers and will be commercially available in the middle of the year.

“Secure mobile broadband connectivity is one of the key themes for NSN as a trusted partner,” Thorsten Robrecht, vice president of NSN’s mobile broadband portfolio management, said in an interview.

Mobile Guard is one of several security products coming, he added.

The fact the matter is mobile device users still aren’t sensitive to security, Robrecht said, with only three per cent of smart phones protected. Meanwhile the amount of malware on mobile networks is increasing by 30 per cent every three months.

Why not put the responsibility on cellular subscribers – who understand the concept for their PCs? Because they expect carriers to shoulder the load, Robrecht said. As a result, if there’s a malware issue often the subscribers think their provider runs an insecure network and switch carriers – which is bad for business.

So NSN argues Mobile Guard not only makes things more secure, it also helps carriers keep subscribers.

Mobile Guard uses an anti-virus engine from security software developer F-Secure combined with an NSN-developed algorithm that detects suspicious behaviour – for example handsets that start to ping dedicated numbers in a very short time frame over the SMS network. The solution can then block that traffic and warn users to clean their device.

“In a perfect world every smart phone would be protected by a firewall and an anti-virus engine,” Robrecht admitted. But they aren’t. Most AV solutions only protect against known threats, he added, while Mobile Guard analyzes code behaviour.

He couldn’t detail how Mobile Guard will be priced for carriers, other than to say it will be licenced per user.

Operators could sell it to subscribers as a premium service, he said, added on to the price of their data plans. Mobile Guard also comes in three versions with increased features for carriers (the lowest merely gives carriers warnings of suspicious behaviour, the highest gives full protection), which could also affect pricing.

Mobile Guard is a virtualized Linux solution that uses a VMware hypervison and runs on a Unix server.

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