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Messages can freeze popular Nokia phones

(IDG) -- The Norwegian mobile Internet technology company Web2Wap inadvertently discovered that some SMS (short message service) text messages can cause a line of mobile telephones made by Nokia to temporarily freeze, the company said Thursday.

"During testing of our WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) products, this problem happened. We were not trying to do any sort of damage (to the phone) at all," said Bjorn Viksund, Web2Wap's managing director.

Viksund added that the problem wasn't caused by a virus. Rather, mobile phone handsets stopped operating after specific SMS messages, which had been coded in a certain way, were tested over the phones. To get the phones working again, the company technicians had to take the battery out of the handsets and reconnect them, Viksund said.


Finland-based Nokia said that it was already in contact with Web2Wap, but that Nokia, the world's largest mobile phone maker, had itself never experienced such problems in the past.

"These kinds of claims are not a rarity. If there is a need for an upgrade, it will be integrated into the product, which is also business as usual," said Nokia spokesman Tapio Hedman.

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Though Viksund declined to identify the model of Nokia phone it used for testing, Hedman said that it was his understanding that Web2Wap had been using Nokia's limited Internet access model, the Nokia 7110.

According to Nokia's Hedman, as is common in the mobile phone industry, SMS text messages can be used by network operators to change the functionality of phones, and in theory, a malformed message could cause phones to lock up. "Perhaps it's a bit too far reaching a conclusion, but it is not totally impossible that this can be caused in theory. Whether it holds water or not remains to be seen, but we are testing the claims made by the Norwegian company now," Hedman said.

Hedman conceded that, due to his own lack of technical expertise, he was unsure if e-mail-to-SMS gateways could enable the sending of malformed messages in Nokia phones, which in turn could instruct the phone to release a virus.

"Naturally, these kinds of possibilities need to be taken into account, and they are. Security is developed accordingly to make sure security is assured," Hedman said.

According to Hedman, past claims of mobile viruses have not panned out, and it is important to realize that nothing has been affecting Nokia users and that there are no malfunctions on its phones.

In June, a new computer virus called "Timof—nica" was reported to be the first virus able to send written messages to mobile phones. Released in Spain and classified as an Internet "worm," Timof—nica attempted to send messages to mobile phones of Spanish operator Telef—nica M—viles through that company's e-mail-to-SMS gateway, according to a report from SL, a Spanish antivirus vendor located in Ontinyent (Valencia), Spain.

The Internet worm simply sent malicious messages, as opposed to viruses that affect the operations of mobile phones. "Timof—nica," the name of the worm, is also a derogatory name given by Spaniards to their state-owned telephone company, and it roughly means "Scam-phone".

Due to various media reports concerning the discovery of the SMS glitch in the Nokia phone line, Moscow-based antivirus software development company, Kaspersky Lab, said it felt compelled to release a statement on Thursday that the "security breach is not a real virus threat."

Kaspersky Lab received numerous user requests regarding the discovery of the first true wireless virus for mobile phones. "This announcement has been repeated by many sources and has caused the story to be widely misunderstood," the company said in the statement.

"This is not the first and obviously not the last security breach discovered in mobile phones. Moreover, (we) believe as more functionality is added to mobile phones, it will result in more breaches being found," Kaspersky Lab said.

Web2Wap also stressed that it doesn't see the glitch it accidentally uncovered as being any major problem or something that anyone else has abused. Viksund pointed out that sending a specifically coded SMS message had been a difficult operation in the first place.

"I do not think that it is any big deal at all. Nokia and Web2Wap will work together and try to find the solutions," Viksund said.

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Nokia, in Espoo, Finland
Web2Wap, in Haugesund, Norway

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