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Viral Epidemics Poised to Go Mobile

By National Science Foundation

May 27, 2009



A research team led by Northeastern University Center for Complex Network Research director Albert-Laszlo Barabasi set out to investigate why smartphone and mobile device users have been largely unaffected by computer viruses. The researchers examined calling and mobility data from more than six million anonymous mobile phone users to create a comprehensive picture of the threat mobile phone viruses pose. The results of the study indicate that a highly fragmented market share has effectively prevented virus outbreaks so far. However, the researchers predict that viruses will become a serious threat once a single mobile operating system's market share grows large enough, which could happen sometime soon.

"We haven't had a problem so far because only phones with operating systems, so-called 'smartphones,' are susceptible to viral infection," says researcher Marta Gonzalez. "Once a single operating system becomes common, we could potentially see outbreaks of epidemic proportion because a mobile phone virus can spread by two mechanisms: a Bluetooth virus can infect all Bluetooth-activated phones in a 10-30 meter radius, while a Multimedia Messaging System virus, like many computer viruses, spreads using the address book of the device." Gonzalez says that hybrid viruses, which can infect via both routes, are the most significant threat.

Access a video depicting the spread of an MMS mobile phone virus.

From National Science Foundation
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Abstracts Copyright © 2009 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA

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