First Palm virus found

Two vendors of antivirus software have announced separately that they've discovered a virus that targets Palm's popular handheld computers and could be spread from one device to another. But both companies described the virus, dubbed PalmOS/Phage, as a low-risk one for personal digital assistant (PDA) users.

The virus was found by both Finland-based F-Secure and Network Associates' McAfee Anti-Virus Emergency Response Team in Oregon. In separate announcements, the companies said PalmOS/Phage is the first known virus designed for the Palm OS operating system used in Palm personal digital devices.

The virus is a direct executable and could be spread from one Palm device to another if infected files are shared via infrared beaming or installed through a docking station, F-Secure said. "As the first real virus on any PDA platform, this is an important milestone," said Mikko Hypponen, manager of antivirus research at F-Secure.

The virus "in itself does not pose a big threat to end users," Hypponen added. F-Secure hasn't received any reports of real-world infections thus far. Both F-Secure and McAfee have made available for downloading programs that should protect against the virus, he said.

The discovery of the Phage virus comes a month after an independent developer of Palm applications created a Trojan program called Liberty that could potentially wipe off all the files of the handheld devices. But unlike that program, Phage is a bona fide "destructive virus that infects PalmOS applications when executed," McAfee said.

The virus could potentially infect all third-party applications on a PDA, overwriting the first section in the host PRC file, he said. The infected file would then spread to other programs until all files are infected, the company added. When an infected application is run, the screen turns blank and the program terminates.

In order to get rid of the virus, users must delete and re-install all third-party applications. According to McAfee, only backed-up third-party applications can be restored by a hard-reset followed by a hot-sync of the Palm device. Data and applications that haven't been backed up will be lost, the company warned.

In a separate announcement, McAfee said it also has identified another Trojan program called Vapor, which can cause all third-party application icons to disappear from Palm devices as if they had been deleted. The affected files still exist, but their icons have been rendered invisible, said McAfee, which also rated Vapor a low risk for users.

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