Network Science looks at mobile phone viruses
May 9th, 2009

The excerpt below is from a report that describes the network laws that would govern the future spread of computer viruses through mobile phones. I found the report on the BarabasiLab Center for Complex Network Research Lab recent publications listing. I was visiting the BrabasiLab website while building this new page on my GoldenSwamp website about the implications for education of the network science for which the BarabasiLab is the hub.

We model the mobility of mobile phone users to study the fundamental spreading patterns characterizing a mobile virus outbreak. We find that while Bluetooth viruses can reach all susceptible handsets with time, they spread slowly due to human mobility, offering ample opportunities to deploy antiviral software. In contrast, viruses utilizing multimedia messaging services could infect all users in hours, but currently a phase transition on the underlying call graph limits them to only a small fraction of the susceptible users. These results explain the lack of a major mobile virus breakout so far and predict that once a mobile operating system’s market share reaches the phase transition point, viruses will pose a serious threat to mobile communications.

Lacking a standardized operating system, traditional cellphones have been relatively immune to viruses. Smartphones, however, can share programs and data with each other, representing a fertile ground for virus writers (1–4). Indeed, since 2004 more than 420 smartphone viruses have been identified (2, 3), the newer ones having reached a state of sophistication that took computer viruses about two decades to arrive at (2). While smartphones currently represent less than 5% of the mobile market, given their reported 150% annual growth rate (4) they are poised to become the dominant communication device in the near future, raising the possibility of virus breakouts that could overshadow the disruption caused by traditional computer viruses (5). . . .

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