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New Bluetooth distribution system worries security experts

Filter UK's directly beamed advertisements could teach bad habits to users

A new distribution system for mobile content using the Bluetooth wireless protocol has prompted fears from security experts, who warn that it could teach bad habits to users that will enable the spread of potentially destructive mobile viruses.

The system, which is called Bluestreaming, is currently being trialled as a marketing tool at railway stations in London, and relies on sending music and pictures over Bluetooth to suitable mobile phones from transmitters concealed in advertising hoardings.

Created by Filter UK, the Bluestreaming technique uses transmitters with a 100 metre radius, and according to the company, detected 87,000 phones capable of receiving the files during a two week trial at six stations - with 17 per cent of users accepting the downloads.

Now security expert Patrick Runald, a senior technical consultant at virus protection firm F-Secure, is warning that the system could encourage bad habits in mobile phone users which will enable the spread of dangerous viruses between phones.

"This is dangerous from a user behaviour point of view," he told Newsfactor. "We're trying to tell people not to accept things on their phones if they're beamed at them. All mobile viruses rely on the users accepting them in order to spread."

However, Filter UK denies that the system carries any inherent security risks - and says that it couldn't be used to transmit an application without warning the user, which may also limit its potential to be used to distribute promotional games to handsets.

"It would be very difficult for a virus writer to spoof a campaign like this," Filter UK commercial partner Fred Durman told the publication. "Mobile viruses are applications and phones will always ask if you want to download and install an application. Since these are music and picture files there's no need for the request. Customers should never install unrecognised applications."

Problems may arise, however, if some companies do start distributing applications - such as games - as promotional materials, with a serious concern that users could become accustomed to accepting such files, much as they are on PCs.

One possible solution to the problem is for handset manufacturers, networks and publishers to agree on a signing standard for applications, which would build a level of trust into any legitimate applications being downloaded to a mobile device.

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