It finally happened: The first virus has hit the Palm OS.

Two weeks ago, McAfee’s Anti Virus Emergency Response Team identified the Palm OS/Phage virus. According to McAfee’s Web site, the Phage virus originated in an IRC chat room and replicates itself into other applications. The virus fills the screen with a dark gray box and then shuts down the handheld.

News of the Phage virus comes just a month after a Trojan horse program called Palm_Liberty.A was discovered in Sweden. Another Trojan horse aimed at the Palm OS, Vapor.741, was also discovered in September.

So far, neither the Palm OS virus nor the Trojan horses are widespread. According to Symantec, there have been fewer than 50 reports of Phage. But if you depend on your Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), why wait to take action? The three applications listed in this article will help protect your Palm OS PDA against malicious code.

Each company offers a program that will run on your Palm as well as a virus detection system that finds Palm viruses on your computer. Keep in mind, however, that antivirus software for PDA is still in its infancy.

F-Secure Anti-Virus for Palm
Shortly after discovery of Phage, F-Secure, a Finnish company, released version 1.0 beta of F-Secure Anti-Virus for Palm. The program is free and can be downloaded from F-Secure’s Web site. But beware that this program is a beta and may contain bugs that could crash your handheld.

The company also offers F-Secure for Windows, which will detect Phage on your PC, thus preventing you from adding it to your handheld during a HotSync.

McAfee Wireless Security Center
McAfee offers a subscription-based service called Wireless Security Center. The package includes VirusScan for Handhelds, which scans for viruses whenever you perform a HotSync. VirusScan is available for:

  • Palm OS
  • Pocket PC
  • Symbian/EPOC
  • Windows CE

The service also includes Guard Dog for Palm, a new program that runs continuously on your PDA, monitoring for malicious code and blocking suspicious files.

The subscription also includes other handheld-oriented services such as hardware add-ons, a performance optimizer for Windows CE, and up-to-the minute virus updates for wireless subscribers.

A year-long subscription is $29.95. A free, 10-day trial is available.

Symantec AntiVirus for Palm OS
The Symantec AntiVirus for Palm OS is a beta application that runs on your Palm OS handheld. You run the application on your handheld to scan and remove viruses, rather than when you perform a HotSync. Symantec notes on its site that this is an especially important feature for those who frequently beam applications or read e-mail on a PDA.

AntiVirus for Palm OS also uses Symantec’s LiveUpdate to add new virus definitions when users perform synchronization.

Since it’s a beta, the program is free, but possibly buggy. Symantec does not provide technical support or offer an enterprise version at this time.

Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus software also detects Vapor, Phage, and Palm_Liberty.A on the PC desktop and will remove it before you HotSync with your handheld.
Has the news of the first Palm OS virus made you more cautious about where you download software for your handheld? E-mail us or post a comment.