A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Getting the Bugs Out

March 15, 2011

By Jason Jacks

Songqing Chen

Songqing Chen

You charge your smartphone in the morning, and by dinner it’s already down to one bar.

Heavy cell phone user or not, that short life-span could be telling you something.

“Battery is something we can measure,” says Songqing Chen, a Mason computer scientist who led a team that created a program that monitors phones for lurking viruses. “If my cell phone battery lowers in a day, and I didn’t use it, that could mean something is wrong.”

There are more than 400 types of viruses, or malware, that can infect wireless devices, such as cell phones. Some are able to send copies of text messages sent from a phone to other devices. Meanwhile, others can turn a cell phone into an eavesdropping device by surreptitiously turning it on so voices and other sounds can be picked up and transmitted elsewhere. Because of their ability to accept downloaded software, smartphones, like Blackberries and Symbian phones, are most susceptible.

Called VirusMeter, Chen’s program is designed to monitor a phone’s battery life. If it depletes at a more than normal rate, the program alerts the user that a virus may be present. From there, the user could either perform a self-scan of the phone or take it to the provider for service.

Currently, VirusMeter has an accuracy range of 75 to 92 percent, Chen says, but developers are working to improve on those numbers.

Regarding interest in the program, most, he says, is coming from fellow researchers. But his team is talking with several antivirus companies about partnering opportunities.

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