In ancient Greece, soldiers and artisans combined their efforts to create a wooden horse capable of deceiving an entire army of Trojan warriors. Now, however, it only takes an ambitious programmer and some friends connected on a network to spread a virus to millions of unsuspecting users.
The first known Trojan horse aimed at handhelds struck two weeks ago. A Trojan Horse is a malicious program that appears to be legitimate, which is often attached to free gaming software. Trojan Horses can locate password information, make systems more susceptible to future entry, or sabotage data on a user's hard disk.
Developed by a software programmer, the Liberty Crack program, as the Palm Trojan horse is now known, appeared as a free version of Gambit Studios Liberty GameBoy emulation software for the Palm. Once Liberty Crack executes, it could delete all of the applications on a Palm device. Trojan Horses typically mimic legitimate programs but do not replicate themselves.
At the moment, the Trojan horse doesn't seem to warrant too much concern. A fix has already been posted and Palm users have the ability to synchronise their devices with their PC to retrieve lost data.
Virus experts at Network Associates' McAfee division, however, claim this initial incident may pave the way for hackers interested in attacking increasingly popular personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other wireless devices.
Last week, the antivirus software vendor released its VirusScan Wireless product in what it says was an anticipation of this type of hacking event.
Ryan McGee, product marketing manager at McAfee, said that Palm looked at the workings of the Timofónica virus released in Spain in July as the first hint of possible attacks on PDAs and handhelds. The Timofónica virus could send copies of itself to contacts in a victim's address book and then send short messages to mobile phones. With the virus making its way into wireless devices, McGee said that McAfee began work on a antivirus scanner.
"As an application or device gains popularity, it becomes an attractive target for virus writers," McGee said. With that in mind, McAfee developed software to scan the Palm operating system as well as rival offerings - Symbian's EPOC OS and Microsoft's Windows CE OS.
McGee said he would not be surprised to see the first full-fledged virus directed toward PDAs within a year. The more advanced memory capabilities of these devices make them an immediate target, McGee noted, adding that cell phones may also face similar tests in the future. "Any time a device has the capability to access a network or another device, it is dangerous," he said.