Apple's record earnings Happy Data Privacy Day Neil Young pulls music from Spotify Our Wordle obsession Minnie Mouse pantsuit Free N95 masks

Security from A to Z: Cell phone threats

Are mobile viruses a real threat? As cell phone sales grow, the question is more pressing. Part of a series on hot security topics.

Mobile malicious software has been on the threat radar since 2004, when the Cabir smart phone worm attempted to spread between Symbian-based mobile phones. Cabir used the Bluetooth short-range wireless feature and was tagged as "very low risk."

Security software makers are eager to get their products onto handsets, a huge potential market. About 812 million mobile terminals--such as cell phones and smart phones--were sold in 2005, according to market researcher Gartner. That compares with an estimated 219 million PCs in the same period.

Mobile viruses have provoked much debate around whether they are an actual or theoretical threat. So far, most cellular viruses have been created only to show that they are possible, they haven't actually been released into the wild.

While the number of threats to cell phones is low--a few hundred examples of malicious code--security experts and analysts agree that situation is likely to change. Gartner suggests a widespread attack could surface by the end of next year.

But mobile security is about more than just cleaning up after the event.

While mobile phones have been getting smarter, people, it would seem, have not. Smart phones and PDAs may be able to do all sorts of nifty things with your data, but that doesn't mean you won't leave them in the back of a cab or on a bar table. This is where mobile device management--or MDM--comes in.

MDM services enable operators to wipe sensitive data from lost or stolen devices, effectively safeguarding corporate secrets from curious thieves. In September, a Visiongain report predicted that by 2009, operator and enterprise MDM will be worth $1.3 billion, and will grow dramatically after that.

Natasha Lomas reported for in London.