Nortel Networks Inc. and Internet security specialist Websense Inc. are partnering to develop a new technology aimed at protecting mobile handset users from emerging wireless threats including viruses and spam.
Late Tuesday, the two firms reported that they signed an agreement to develop and build a Web content filtering application designed specifically for wireless devices.
Like many PC-oriented filtering tools, the software will scan individual Internet URLs sent to handsets for potential security threats, adult materials and other inappropriate content.
The companies said the application will give mobile operators the ability to set policies determining which materials will be blocked, and also allow carriers to bar the downloading of any known malicious code.
As mobile devices have become increasingly prevalent, new threats have appeared that are designed to attack and frustrate wireless users, such as viruses that attempt to corrupt handset software and the same kind of unsolicited spam messages people have become used to receiving via e-mail.
Many experts have predicted that such attacks will only continue to proliferate as more people begin using Internet browsing, e-mail and instant messaging technologies on their wireless devices.
The most notable iterations of such threats thus far have been the Cabir and Skulls viruses that target handsets running on Symbian operating system software.
The attacks prompted people to download files tailored to look as if they had been sent by someone in a users device phone book, and then corrupted files on handsets when launched.
While the two viruses are not considered to have affected many people, experts believe that the viruses, both of which carry code designed to forward the attacks to additional phones, serve as a chilling example of future mobile security threats.
Using the software being developed by Nortel, Brampton, Canada and San Diego-based Websense Inc., subscribers will be able to ask their wireless carriers to automatically block various types of malicious content from ever reaching their devices.
The companies said the application will combine Websenses URL filtering technology with Nortels GSM wireless packet security software, and will support wireless protocols and standards including WML and WAP, along with HTML and HTTP.
At least one industry watcher predicted that such wireless Web filtering tools will be necessary to combat the rising tide of mobile threats.
"Wireless service providers and subscribers alike are finding their handsets increasingly receiving unwanted or even malicious content from spammers, hackers or overly aggressive marketers," said Brian Burke, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, in a report.
"Combined with a number of worldwide initiatives by wireless providers to block the delivery of pornographic content, [mobile Web filters] are all the more timely and relevant."
Despite the growing threat of wireless attacks, some research indicates that people using smart phones, or handsets with PC-like capabilities for browsing the Internet, using IM and reading e-mail, are already well aware of the problem.
In a report published earlier this year, security software maker Symantec Corp. found that in a survey of 300 American adults, 73 percent of smart phone users were familiar with mobile viruses and other attacks.
However, more than 70 percent of the people responding to the Symantec survey harbored some concern that hackers could steal or corrupt confidential information stored on their wireless handsets.