An independent developer for Palm handheld computers has created a Trojan horse program that can wipe all the files off a handheld device.
Palm Inc. spokeswoman Julia Rodriguez acknowledged the existence of the program, which first surfaced last week, and said the company doesn't know of any "reports that any Palm user has been affected" by the program.
The developer, who goes by the name "Ardiri" on a Palm user Web site (www.palmstation.com), said he designed it to "clean up any redundant data files." Instead, according to the discussion thread on the Web site, the program, which masquerades as a game called "Liberty," can, once executed, wipe out all the files on the infected device. Ardiri said he had no intention of widely releasing it but did provide copies to a "few friends."
After that, Ardiri said in a posting last Friday, the Trojan horse started to proliferate throughout the Palm underground. Ardiri said that after realizing the potential extent of that distribution -- the Palm developer community numbers more than 80,000 -- he posted warnings about it on the PalmStation.com and PalmGear.com Web sites.
Ardiri added, "After many hours of thinking, I regret even considering what could be done with this application . . . and giving it to anybody on Palmchat was a big mistake."
Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm, dismissed the impact the Trojan horse program would have on Palm users.
"All you have to do to get rid of it is a 'hot reset' and resync with your PC" to remove the program from an infected handheld device, Rodriguez said. She added that Palm is well aware "that any electronic device is susceptible" to hacking and that the company is "working to make sure any such attempts are detected and intercepted and avoided." Rodriguez declined to provide specific details.
Network Associates Inc., a virus-scanning software company also in Santa Clara, said it has developed and started to distribute a new line of VirusScan Wireless security products that should provide protection for Palm computers as well as other handheld devices running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE and Symbian operating systems.
IDefense Inc. in Fairfax, Va., an Internet security company, said in an analysis of the Palm Trojan horse that the company believes security will be needed as attacks on handheld devices proliferate. In its analysis, iDefense said the appearance of the Liberty Trojan "fulfills experts' predictions that the Palms . . . would soon be hit by a virus or a Trojan. . . . It is likely that copycats will follow close on the heels of . . . Liberty," according to the analysis.
"Either virus writers will simply change the name and icon, disguising the Trojan, or they will borrow elements of its code to create a more dangerous program," the statement said. "Owners of [personal digital assistants] and other handheld devices are urged to exercise extreme caution and explore the feasibility of employing antivirus software as it becomes available."