Ask WME: My Computer got a Virus, is my Windows Mobile Smartphone Safe?

If you've followed WMExperts for awhile, you've probably noticed that we've glanced askance at anti-virus or other malware solutions for Windows Mobile.  The bottom line is that the threat doesn't seem big enough to warrant the performance hit that you'd get by running anti-virus on your smartphone.  In fact, so far as we know, there aren't any serious viruses or other threats out there at all right now.  Nobody here runs anti-virus and nobody here recommends that you do either.

Of course, making such a blanket statement isn't so cut-and-dried -- it's always possible that something nasty could crop up and it's legitimate to be worried about it.  We just received an email from David in this vein.  Find it and our answer, after the break!

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David writes:

My laptop was recently infected with the "Conficker" worm.  My Fuze was connected to my laptop and was synced.  Any chance of my Phone being infected? Phone seems to be working fine. [More info on Conficker]

Now, we should say from the outset that Windows Mobile is not Windows and so software (or viruses) written for Windows won't affect Windows Mobile.  So the short answer to David's questions is: yes, your phone is just fine.

The longer answer is this: given that Microsoft decided to call their mobile Operating System Windows Mobile and given that more recently they seem to want to refer to their stuff as "Windows Phones" (As Steve Ballmer did in the CES keynote), it's not mere paranoia to wonder about these types of issues, but a legitimate confusion about just what Windows Mobile is and how it relates to Windows now and in the future.  Again, there's a similarity in brand, but Windows XP, Vista, and even Windows 7 are based on entirely different core than Windows Mobile is -- they're entirely different operating systems (though they do work in somewhat similar ways).

Now: we are not saying that it's impossible that someday some enterprising young ne'er-do-well could write a piece of malware that could affect both.  We also believe it's possible (likely?) that soon we'll see malware that hides itself inside Windows Mobile so that it can attack any desktop you attach it to.  There has been one instance of a Windows Mobile native trojan as well, one that sent your information back to home base, though in retrospect it does appear that it was more an overzealous Chinese developer then it was an attempt to steal your bank accounts.

The upshot of all this: Windows malware doesn't affect Windows Mobile and doesn't look to in the near term.  We still don't use or recommend anti-virus on your smartphone.  But the security vulnerabilities are there for both native and piggy-backed malware, just as they are on pretty much every device with an operating system -- we're just not worried about them and don't think you need to be either -- at least for now.

Dieter Bohn