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Network Associates looks to wireless security

As mobile devices sophisticate, "users will be opened up to a whole new range of viruses," a company executive says. The software maker is forming partnerships to address the issue.

Security software maker Network Associates Technology is working with Japanese wireless services providers such as NTT DoCoMo to develop antivirus applications for next-generation mobile devices.

Network Associates and DoCoMo announced on Friday a partnership to build compact antivirus software technology and related services. The companies have jointly developed virus-scanning applications for e-mail since May 2002.

Tokyo-based DoCoMo said it hopes to deliver the antivirus package to its wireless service subscribers by the second half of 2004. Network Associates will supply the software to DoCoMo, which will in turn deliver the applications to users. Network Associates is working with six other Japanese wireless carriers on similar projects and is also considering versions of the software that could be marketed directly to consumers.

Victor Kouznetsov, senior vice president of Network Associates' McAfee Security unit, said the company has been forced to build its mobile antivirus applications virtually from scratch in order to re-create functionality from its personal computer-oriented products. The major hurdle has been addressing the smaller power sources and memory reserves that are found in most wireless handsets. Another challenge for the company is attempting to build applications that mesh easily with the many different operating systems and chips present in the mobile device market today.

"As carriers push to deliver more sophisticated services, we know that users will be opened up to a whole new range of potential viruses," Kouznetsov said. "And the fact that most people won't ever recognize this threat will make it even harder to control potential outbreaks."

Kouznetsov highlighted DoCoMo's introduction of HTML- and Java-based wireless applications as prime examples of new technologies that make it necessary for mobile devices to be better armed with antivirus tools. Mobile phones also tend to attract a wider audience of users than PCs, many of whom are less savvy about protecting themselves from virus attacks.

"It's hard to imagine what the mobile industry will be like five years from now, but five years ago, it would have been impossible to understand the impact that something like (the MSBlast virus) had this year," Kouznetsov said. "Once all this new technology is deployed, there will undoubtedly be a much higher possibility for outbreaks."

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Network Associates will spend the better part of the next year working with DoCoMo, other wireless services providers and handset manufacturers to ensure that its scaled-down antivirus software can address the holes in emerging wireless applications. The company said it would investigate the possibility of contributing some of the technologies and services it's developing to international standardization organizations.