GSM Backers Deny Virus Affected Cell Phones

BOSTON (06/08/2000) - The association representing wireless carriers that operate their networks on the European GSM mobile phone standard yesterday denied press reports claiming that a computer virus had penetrated the Spanish mobile network operated by Madrid-based Telefonica Moviles SA.

In a statement that was released by the London-based GSM Association, Telefonica said it "has no knowledge of the existence of such a virus." The Spanish company added that it "has not detected any kind of problem in its systems and has not received any complaints whatsoever from customers."

Several antivirus software vendors, including Finland-based F-Secure Corp., this week issued warnings about a new e-mail virus known as the VBS/Telefonica worm. In addition to spreading via Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook e-mail software if infected users open an attachment that comes with the e-mail, the virus was said to be capable of sending a short message critical of Telefonica to random GSM mobile phones.

Telefonica acknowledged that such messages could be sent but said it was unaware of any actual occurrences. Even if GSM users did receive a virus-fueled message, the company added, it wouldn't pose "any risk whatsoever to the correct functioning of the mobile phone."

James Moran, director of security at the GSM Association, said in the same statement that e-mail viruses are "not capable of infecting or harming mobile phones" and cannot spread from one phone to another or from a phone to a computer.

Mikko Hypponen, manager of antivirus research at F-Secure, said in an advisory posted on the company's Web site that VBS/Telefonica "is the first-ever virus to do anything with mobile phones." But the e-mail worm "is not a mobile phone virus," he added. "It does not spread through phones; it just sends annoying messages to them." And F-Secure had received reports of the virus only from Spain, Hypponen said.

Despite the denials by Telefonica and the GSM Association that the virus had any impact on mobile networks, some U.S. carriers said they had increased their vigilance against potential virus attacks.

For example, a spokesman at AT&T Wireless Service Inc. in Bellevue, Washington, said officials there "are concerned about this . . . and we are putting countermeasures in place." Due to the heightened security concerns, he declined to specify the type of measures AT&T Wireless had taken to protect its network.

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