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Unconfirmed reports suggest that a mobile phone virus is spreading like a zombie plague among Chinese smartphone users - and that it has so affected 1m phones which are costing their users a total of around 2m yuan (£150,000) per day as they send out premium-rate text messages to people in the owners' contact books.
A touch of scepticism may be in order: mobile phone viruses are much reported but generally little seen, and while China is a huge (huge, huge) market, the idea that this is feasible there but not in the developed west where mobile phone penetration is higher, and there has been longer-standing use, seems out of kilter.
There is one possible reason why this might be happening in China, and not seen elsewhere: China Mobile, the country's largest mobile operator with about 570m subscribers, has developed its own mobile OS based on Google's Android, called OMS (for "Open Mobile System"). That may be vulnerable in ways that OSs in the west aren't - particularly through the Android (or OMS, or China Mobile) Marketplace.
Shanghai Daily reports that "the 'zombie' virus, hidden in a bogus anti-virus application, can send the phone user's SIM card information to hackers, who then remotely control the phone to send URL links, usually pay-per-click ads, in text messages to contacts in the user's address book."
The first virus hit in September, according to Shanghai Daily's report of a report by the Chinese National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Center, which is reported as saying that a further 10 have been identified since then. However this report does, on the surface, sound very similar to reports that surfaced in April, which said that a "new mobile virus" named "MMS Bomber" had run rampant in China, affecting millions of Chinese mobile phones. Beijing Business News said that the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team/Coordination Center of China had alerted mobile users that the targets of the virus are mobile devices running the S60 3rd edition OS – mostly Nokia and Samsung smartphones.
Unfortunately the CNCNERTTC's site is pretty unhelpful in English - some of the links don't go anywhere, or go to the wrong documents. The Chinese version (Google translated) doesn't seem to have anything specific about mobiles either - so it's hard to figure this out.
So this seems to require a few things: (a) there are enough smartphone users in China for this to propagate among them (probably true: smartphones are more than 15% of sales in each quarter) (b) enough people with peers who have smartphones able to display and respond to URLs sent in texts (c) enough people using mobiles with the same OS that the virus can spread. It's not known whether the latest reports relate to Symbian S60-3e phones, or OMS.
Is it credible? If the antivirus package was free, perhaps; given the propensity of some people to download any old thing from open marketplaces, quite possibly. And China is a huge, huge market: 1m infected users would only be 0.2% of its users, which would translate to a tiny number here in the UK, for instance.
Even so, we'd like to see some clearer data about this.