Computer Viruses in Home Appliances and Mobile Phones: Is It Possible to Fight against Them?

27 Jun 2000
Virus News

Cambridge, UK, June 28, 2000 - Recently the problem of anti-virus protection for computerised home appliances, mobile phones, and handheld computing devices has become one of the most discussed topics in the computer press, At IT conferences, and among IT specialists throughout the world. The reason for this interest is quite clear: the world is moving very fast towards the integration of information technology into nearly all fields of human activities.

"This problem is really extremely relevant. In a few years, people will be able to schedule and regulate the operating mode of washing machines, fridges, stoves, and other home appliances by the use of computers. And they will be connected with the Internet or some other network," says Eugene Kaspersky, Head of Anti-Virus Research at Kaspersky Lab Int. Just imagine, your computer will control the start time and operating mode of your microwave, oven, or toaster. Create a control program once, and you can be sure that every morning you will have your breakfast ready before you enter the kitchen.

However, apart from the obvious advantages to our day-to-day life this improvement provides, there is another side to the story. The microwave oven from the example mentioned above operates according to certain commands (so-called script programs) sent by a computer. The computer in turn is connected to the Internet and it is used by your family or colleagues. This presents a chance for computer viruses to enter your computer. Using it, they can gain access even to the home appliances by sending them their own malicious commands. "Nobody likes it if a virus opens your fridge's door for the whole night. Just imagine the smell," said Eugene Kaspersky.

This example is very illustrative, but rather harmless. The consequences of the virus attack may affect people personally. Suppose a virus enters a hospital's main servers, which control patients' life support systems. In this case, the outcome could be lethal.

It might be that commonly used PCs will be separated from simplified home PCs designed to provide Internet access, e-mail processing, and control over home appliances. Nowadays, we can see the early prototypes of these computers. Many leading PC manufacturers including Acer, Boundless Technologies, Compaq, Dell, Netpliance, and Vestel are already producing so-called "network computers."

Another field, which could be affected by viruses, is mobile phones. Incredibly fast development of wireless technology will soon turn them from an ordinary tool of voice transaction into a universal mobile communications portal with the rest of the world. Mobile phones will be powered with all features of modern PCs connected to the Internet. This will allow people to perform financial transactions, online purchasing, and sensitive data transfer using mobile phones. They will be equipped with operating systems, text editors, spreadsheet editors, database processors etc. similar to modern ones. Finally, users will have the ability to exchange with executable files. As exactly as it is with PCs, some of them may contains viruses. This will be the beginning of a new era in the battle between viruses and anti-viruses.

It could be dangerous if smart home appliances are combined with wireless technology. Recently, the Swedish company Vattenfall has introduced an advanced control system for home appliances using mobile phones and Internet. It allows people to receive comprehensive reports from automated security systems installed in their home, control room temperature inside of buildings, and schedule the operating mode of different home appliances.

"Modern trends define the interest Kaspersky Lab takes in the development of special anti-virus software modules for mobile phones and home appliances," said Michael Kalinichenko, Kaspersky Lab Technical Director. "The main problem in this direction is the principal difference between the environment architecture of PCs and these devices. Thus, anti-virus vendors have to produce absolutely new products from the ground up. To cope with this challenge, we started the development of a unique anti-virus technology two years ago, which allows us to move our software easily to any operating system, processor type, WAP-gateway, mobile phone, and even home appliances. We are planning to release the first version of a new generation anti-virus later this autumn".