ESET App Girds Smartphones for Malware Battles

Malware has yet to plague smartphones to anywhere near the extent it has PCs, it’s only a matter of time before cyber-criminals start targeting mobile networks.

ESET, developer of the NOD32 antivirus solution for PCs and computer networks, is the latest IT security specialist to enter the fray.

Applying to mobile platforms the heuristics-driven, proactive malware threat detection and prevention technology that made NOD32 AV and its Smart Security product line a success in the PC-network world, ESET on Monday announced a free beta test release of ESET Mobile Antivirus, which the company touts as a fast and lightweight anti-malware scanner for Windows Mobile smartphones.

Security for the Third Screen

“Widespread mobile attacks are inevitable in the near future, and yet it is likely that these first attacks will be hard to find before they’ve done their damage,” according to Brian Burke, program director for security poducts at IDC. “Companies like ESET who are effectively applying their proactive protection to the mobile platform are most readily equipped to identify and prevent the risks that will slip by most signature-based AV solutions,” he stated.

ESET claims Mobile AV’s small footprint, efficient use of processing power, compact update files, and limited memory, processing and bandwidth usage addresses the key challenges security software developers face when trying to tackle smartphone and mobile platforms. On top of these, security solutions need to provide as great a degree of malware detection and prevention as possible.

Main Features

“What we really focused on doing with this product is taking the technology we developed for proactive threat detection and moving it to the mobile platform. It’s a particularly good fit for a couple of reasons. When it comes to limited processor and memory capacity, heuristics models put lighter demands on processors,” explained Dan Clark, ESET vice president of marketing.

“Another aspect of this has to do with the way the heuristics work: Malware updates tend to be more compact than for signature-based updates,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Again, that’s going to be a significant benefit without having to consume a lot of system resources, and in terms of using less storage, as well as bandwidth.”

ESET Mobile AV also performs on-demand scanning of memory and running processes as well as memory media and scans data coming over Bluetooth, WiFi and infrared connections, as well as GSM and CDMA transmissions. It allows users to define parameters for scanning .cab files (used for downloading files) and generates an activity log.

User interface design was a major focus of the project, Clark added. “To a large extent, in a product like this the closer you can get to ‘set-and-forget,’ the better off you are — you want to have it quietly do its job in the background without bothering you. It should strive to be clean and simple but at the same time be a good fit and easy for the user to configure. Those types of choices should be available to the user, but the operation should be very quiet.”

Kicking the Tires

“We have a lot of experience as a Windows developer; it’s a good starting point for us,” Clark commented when asked about the reason for choosing to initially develop a Windows Mobile version of ESET Mobile AV.

The beta version — which can be downloaded free via ESET’s Web site — provides anti-malware protection for data files and executables. Subsequent pilots and the full production version will include additional features and functionality, Clark explained.

“One of the goals of the beta — which is expected to last several months — is to demonstrate the efficacy of the heuristic-based antivirus wth minimal system impact and in a manner that is more or less invisible to the user. A second goal is to get feedback on usability and other issues. We would like to optimize the full production release,” he continued.

“Right now, the beta version can scan system files; when we extend it to support active scanning of SMS and e-mail, that will ensure that we’ll catch things before you receive them or send them on to other people, not just when the file is opened, as in the case of the beta.”

Where the Action Is

Consumers bought about 115 million smartphones in 2007, 60 percent more than 2006, according to Canalys.

Microsoft expects to sell 20 million units in its 2007-2008 fiscal year. The company reportedly sold more than 11 million units of its Windows Mobile software in the 2006-2007 fiscal year.

While Apple continues to make waves with the iPhone and Microsoft looks for Windows Mobile software sales to grow at least 50 percent in 2008 and 2009, IT security specialists believe that mobile malware threats are imminent.

Around 400 mobile malware threats have been identified to date, Clark said. “[The threat is] nowhere as large as it is in the PC space, but as more and more businesses embrace these technologies, there’s a need to be ready before being hit by a security breach.

“The general consensus is that any device that contains private and confidential data is subject to some form of compliance with respect to privacy; and at the end of the day, and even in instances where there are no regulatory requirements, common sense should prevail. That means having the same level of security [in your smartphone] as in your PC.”

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