Symantec is developing what it claims will be the first antivirus software designed specifically for handheld devices, such as Palm Pilots and Pocket PCs.
The company said that although there are currently no known computer viruses, worms or Trojan Horses that target handheld PCs, these platforms are just as susceptible to malicious code as any other mainstream computing platform.
Handheld devices will become an increasingly attractive target for virus writers, said Symantec. Analyst firm IDC predicts there will be 50 million personal handhelds used in businesses worldwide by 2003.
Symantec's prototype handheld antivirus technology uses what the company describes as a 'micro-engine' to detect potential threats to handheld platforms.
Executives at the antivirus vendor said they are also investigating ways to use heuristics - a less formulaic approach to virus detection than common techniques - and other more advanced non-fingerprint based technologies to eliminate the dependence on the larger virus definitions used in today's antivirus products.
Aled Miles, Symantec managing director for the UK and Ireland, said: "There hasn't been a virus for handheld PCs as yet, but as virus writing evolves there is a degree of inevitability that there will be a risk. IT directors have had many challenges with people using laptops and bringing them in from home. One of the driving factors of handheld devices is they are often brought in personally."
The first handheld antivirus products will be for the Palm operating system, but Symantec is talking to a number of handheld operating system vendors and other products will follow, said Miles.
The first products should ship by the end of this year, he added.
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