A major reason why mobile phones have been relatively free of virus attacks is that the market is widely split, unlike in computer software, where one firm controls a large chunk of the market, scientists point out.
If you own a computer, you are likely to be familiar with a nasty virus attack at some point.
But there have been no major outbreaks of mobile phone viral infection, despite the fact that over 80 percent of Americans now use these devices.
A team headed by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, director of the Centre for Complex Network Research at Northeastern University, set out to explain why mobile phones are relatively insulated from such attacks.
The researchers used calling and mobility data from over six million anonymous mobile phone users to create a comprehensive picture of the threat mobile phone viruses pose to users.
The study found that a highly fragmented market has effectively hindered virus outbreaks so far.
The researchers predict that viruses will pose a serious threat once a single mobile operating system’s market share grows sufficiently large. This event may not be far off, given the 150 percent annual growth rate of smart phones.
“We haven’t had a problem so far because only phones with operating systems, so-called ’smart phones’, are susceptible to viral infection,” explained Marta Gonzalez, one of the study co-authors.
“Once a single operating system becomes common, we could potentially see outbreaks of epidemic proportion because a mobile phone virus can spread by two mechanisms: a Bluetooth virus can infect all Bluetooth-activated phones in a 10-30 metre radius, while Multimedia Messaging System (MMS) virus, like many computer viruses, spreads using the address book of the device.
“Not surprisingly, hybrid viruses, which can infect via both routes, pose the most significant danger,” said Gonzalez, according to a Northwestern release.