Antivirus experts have discovered what they claim is the first example of a virus written specifically to target Palm handheld devices.
The PalmOS/Phage wireless virus was sent to antivirus company Network Associates by someone who claimed to have found it on a website.
Although the company said the virus is not a high risk to Palm users, it warned that the discovery shows the growing popularity of handheld devices means they are now seen as a viable target by virus authors.
Jack Clark, European product marketing manager at Network Associates, said: "Although there have been some comments that there is no such thing as a handheld virus, I believe this has been in the virus writer's eye for some time. Virus writers know about technology and know there are a lot of Palm Pilots out there."
Clark said the PalmOS/Phage virus infects any .PRC files, which are the equivalent of executable files on the Palm platform. He added that an infected Palm will also display a grey box on its screen.
"It [the virus] eventually causes these files not to work. Once a device has been affected these files will work once, but not again. This could be a big headache for some people as they will not be able to restore their files if they haven't backed them up."
Clark said that as far as he knows, the virus is not currently out in the wild and therefore is a low risk to users, but said it is essential to be prepared. "It is better to be proactive than reactive."
Eric Chien, chief researcher at Symantec's antivirus research centre (Sarc), agreed: "It is a low risk. It is a simple overwriter and relies on humans to spread. But this was how the first DOS viruses began. First came the overwriters and then the stealth viruses, polymorphic viruses and viruses that send themselves out by email. However, this will take a few years to happen with handheld viruses."
"It is exactly the same rules as for protecting PCs. Users need to extend these rules to cover all their devices." he added.
A Trojan horse program, called Palm.Liberty.A, was discovered in August which could delete applications and databases from users' Palm devices. It was disguised as a tool for people who want to obtain pirate copies of Liberty, the Nintendo GameBoy emulator program for the Palm platform.
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