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Malignant text ambushes Europe cell phones

A short-text message, among the 1 billion sent each day in Europe, can freeze or completely disable two cell phones made by German handset maker Siemens.

NEW ORLEANS--A short text message is spelling death for cell phones in Europe.

The wireless e-mail, among the 1 billion sent each day on the continent, can freeze or completely disable two cell phones made by German handset maker Siemens, spokesman Jacob Rice said here on Tuesday.

The e-mails contain a single word, taken from the phone's language menu, surrounded by quote marks and preceded by an asterisk, such as "*English" or "*Deutsch," Siemens said.

Opening the short-text message on a Siemens 35 series cell completely disables it, Rice said. Siemens 45 series phones are less affected and can be resuscitated after about two minutes of work, Rice said. Both phones are sold only in Europe.

The phones are not the victim of a denial of service attack, as suggested by some participating in an e-mail string on Bugtraq, a popular security e-mail list, Rice said.

"It's just not possible," Rice said.

Denial of service attacks are very rare on cell phones. There has been only one known case in the past two years, when an e-mail virus sent to Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo subscribers forced the phones to call that country?s emergency services agencies.

Software problems, however, are much more common on cell phones. DoCoMo has had the most publicized of problems, having to recall thousands of cell phones in the past few years because of software snafus.

Regardless of the reason for the Siemens phone breakdowns, it's unwelcome news at a cell phone industry gathering here this week for the CTIA Wireless 2003 show as major U.S. carriers push harder than ever to sell wireless data services and more sophisticated cell phones.

"Security is something we take very seriously," said Microsoft spokesman Ed Suwanjindar. He said with the necessary tools to write antivirus software from the phones.

Carriers also have the option to "lock" the phones down, so only applications such as games or ring tones that pass a carrier's certification process can be downloaded onto phones, Suwanjindar said.

"We haven't seen a lot of these problems," but have also taken precautions against it, said a representative for Palm, whose software-rich Tungsten W is being sold by AT&T Wireless.