Hackers aiming at all computer devices

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

Expert: Cellphones, PDAs ‘are also likely targets’

Jim Jamieson

Andy Walker, a technology journalist, believes that, in the near future, electronic viruses will affect any device connected to computers, including the iPod. Photograph by : Jason Payne, The Province

Apparently, nothing is sacred.

Technology writer Andy Walker predicts that malicious hackers are on the verge of writing insidious computer code that will target, amongst other devices and platforms, Apple’s iconic iPod.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Province yesterday, Walker said the recent reports of the first worm written for Apple’s OS X operating system simply point to a wider proliferation of so-called malware as virus writers look farther afield for platforms to infect.

He warned that devices such as PDAs and cellphones will also be under greater threat.

“Apple has been bragging about having the most secure operating system, but there’s no free lunch in security,” said Walker, a Toronto-based journalist and broadcaster, who has just published Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Security, Spam, Spyware and Viruses.

“I think somebody is trying to make a point, but they also may smell an opportunity if sales ramp up with Apple going to the Intel chip. Apple would be a great place to experiment because the iPod is so strongly linked to the operating system. I think the honeymoon is over for Apple.”

Walker said the attraction of the iPod is its dominant position in the MP3 player market (78 per cent) and the fact it also works in the much larger Windows world.

“Can you imagine looking at the latest episode of Lost and having some video ad come on?” he said. “Or getting audio spam when you’re listening to a song you downloaded. What a great way to sneak in adware.”

But Walker said Microsoft Corp. is also heading into a crucial period in terms of its own battered reputation regarding security to its flagship product, the Windows XP operating system. The much- delayed launch of XP’s successor, Vista, is due out this fall and Walker said the new OS must be airtight.

“Microsoft is running scared right now,” said Walker, whose next project is a book on Vista. “Windows and Office are what pay the bills at Microsoft, so if it’s not secure it’s going to be their undoing.”

Walker speculated that if Microsoft stumbles, Google will offer competition in the space, if not with a Google OS then some sort of all-encompassing technology.

Walker says the minimum precautions for safe computing are software for anti-virus and anti-spyware, making sure your firewall is turned on and updating your operating system as often as possible. Other key rules are not opening unsolicited e-mails and avoiding filesharing networks.

“If you ignore the potential problems, you could potentially suffer financial damage,” he said.

Walker‘s comprehensive but accessible book also suggests free alternatives to most types of security software.

“Computer security problems are not your fault, so you shouldn’t be forced to pay a lot of money to fix them,” he said.

© The Vancouver Province 2006


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