Is Cellular Security Following a Horror Flick Script?

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The descent into insecure cellular networking seems to be gradual, not dramatic.

The hype surrounding wired vulnerabilities has been mind-numbing for years. If it isn't viruses, it's Trojans. If it isn't Trojans, it's phishing. The bottom line is that the wired world is insecure. Good software, attentive network providers and vigilance may -- just may -- save the day.

But cellular security hasn't presented as many problems. For one thing, cellular networks are not dominated by one operating system as PCs are by Microsoft. This makes it more of a challenge for the bad guys, who also have shied away from cellular simply because they were relatively low-capacity networks and didn't carry high-value payloads nor present a great enough challenge to justify their attention (at least in their overblown image of themselves).

With the advent of 3G networks and more advanced applications -- such as sophisticated push e-mail from Research in Motion -- the good old days are ending. Gradually, cellular services are becoming as much of a target as wired and Wi-Fi networks.

Some might say the assault on cellular networks got started in earnest with the Cabir virus in 2004. Whether or not that is true -- and there are plenty of specialists who are better able to delineate the development cycle than us -- the trend line definitely points to increasing threats to cellular networks.

Two recent stories -- one in WirelessWeek and the other in ZDNet -- chronicle the evolution. WirelessWeek reports that cellular networks providers, security vendors and device manufacturers are paying attention and starting to put together proactive programs aimed at protecting users. That, of course, is a good thing.

The frightening development is that hackers are starting to see cellular networks as good targets. Now, apparently, BlackBerry devices are in the cross hairs. The ZDNet piece points out that the there are fail-safes in the BlackBerry architecture to malware and that the particular exploit discussed in the story appears to be relatively innocuous.

That's spin, however.

The situation is a bit like a horror movie. At the start, small things begin to go wrong. The characters ignore these incidents, of course, and happily go about their business. The viewer knows that an inexorable string of events has begun to unfold, and characters will soon be meeting terrible (but highly imaginative) fates.

Hopefully, the cellular industry has enough foresight to write a new ending to that old script.