Blissfully unaware users could be opening themselves up to virus threats because they're walking around with open Bluetooth wireless connections on their mobile phones and other devices, according to security firm Kaspersky Labs.
At the InfoSecurity 2006 show in London, Kaspersky scanned for Bluetooth on the underground (the London subway), at major train stations, and in the financial district. Kaspersky found over 2,000 open connections in three days of testing using Bluetooth-equipped laptops and smartphones.
So what does this mean in terms of mobile security? Shane Coursen, senior technical consultant at the lab, says this sort of open front door could enable devices in close proximity to quickly transfer viruses to other users. A kind of rapidly spreading "Blue Flu" if you will.
"On a small scale, it has already happened," says Coursen. He points to one of the first mobile-phone viruses, Cabir, which used Bluetooth to replicate between phones using the Symbian Ltd. operating system.
Such mobile viruses could spread further with so many open connections around. Coursen compares it to the spread of actual biological airborne viruses.
The radio range of Bluetooth-enabled devices is one of the factors holding back such a rapid spread. Typically they have a range of around 30 feet (10 meters). As Kaspersky Labs points out, this is of little comfort in cities where users are at close quarters. In fact, based on research in Moscow earlier this year, the firm estimates that a worm for mobile devices would be able to infect nearly all of the vulnerable devices in that city within a period of 15 days.
"In reality, of course, it would probably take longer, but this does show that a local epidemic is a dangerous reality," says Alexander Gostev, senior virus analyst at Kaspersky Lab, in a research note on the Bluetooth vulnerabilities.
Coursen tells Unstrung that many device vendors are waking up to the fact that automatic downloads over open connections aren't a great plan for Bluetooth devices. "A lot of the manufacturers are realizing that completely automating things is a bad idea."
Users should also ensure that they know the status of the Bluetooth connections on their devices -- and that they are not sending out the wrong signals in this virus-ridden world.