60-Second Science

Cell Phones Relatively Safe from Viruses... For Now

A study in the journal Science notes that viruses remain a small threat to cell phones--but only because not enough users are on the same operating system. Karen Hopkin reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

We can get viruses from the Internet. But can we catch viruses on our cell phones? A new study in the journal Science says yes, but the spread of such malicious mobile software won’t reach epidemic proportions until more cell phones are on the same operating system.

Computers are vulnerable to viruses because they share data, especially over the Internet. Of course, nowadays, more people are using their cell phones for email, text messaging and downloading annoying ring tones. So it stands to reason that cell phone viruses are a threat, as well.

Scientists used anonymous call data from more than six million cell phone users to help model a potential outbreak. And they concluded that viruses that spread from phone to phone by Bluetooth are not much concern, because users have to be in close physical proximity for their phones to “see” one another. However, viruses that spread through multimedia messaging services—so they’d come disguised as, say, a cool tune sent by a friend—can move much faster. The good news is that to be effective, these viruses need their victims to all use the same operating system. Which not enough of us do. Because there is no Microsoft Vista for mobile phones, yet. Thank goodness.

—Karen Hopkin

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