Computer viruses have long been considered the bane of the Internet and soon viruses for the mobile phone will cause similar headaches for consumers unless wireless operators begin preparations now, warns Johan Valentin, GM for the Americas of SmartTrust.  The company is a mobile device management company that recently began a partnership with F-Secure, a provider of mobile content secure solutions. In an interview with Report on Wireless last month, he said that the proliferation of viruses for cell phones could be 18 to 24 months away.  "All carriers are looking at this, at least all the larger carriers are looking at this," he tells RoW. "It’s not necessarily a threat today, but a threat for tomorrow that is imminent and are all building up their strategies for what they are going to do about it."  Valentin says that if mobile carriers don’t begin looking at a virus protection strategy, they could end up paying a lot in the end. "I think security analysts look at before and after , and if you wait until after, then it costs 10 to 100 times more to fix it than before. So if you are taking our approach to it, you will never find out how much damage it would have done...in terms of loss of brand recognition, customers, work and time that you have to do to clean everything up."  SmartTrust is in discussions with Canadian carriers about device management generally, and those talks could cover the subject of virus protection, says Valentin. "I don’t want to speculate on where the Canadian carriers are in their strategies about rolling out virus protection, but if they aren’t thinking about it today, I would be surprised if it doesn’t get on their agendas pretty soon," he says.  Canada’s three national wireless operators hadn’t responded by press time to requests for information on what they are doing with respect to the emergence of viruses for the cell phone.  SmartTrust, known mostly for device management features that ensure a good user experience, is now going after the mobile virus protection market. The company’s recent partnership with F-Secure will allow the two firms to provide carriers with an over-the-air capability to upgrade devices’ firmware, software and virus protection capabilities.  "We offer the capability to activate, to configure, to download the most current firmware onto the device, and also now with this partnership with F-Secure, the capability to protect your device from intrusion," Valentin explains. "What we all think about is malicious software that will replicate and do damage to your contacts. But you are also making sure that your data is safe, that it’s backed up and that you’re protected from spam. In the case of having phones for your family and children, you would expect some level of filter, like you do in the PC environment, where you can protect your children from receiving certain types of content."  SmartTrust is well-positioned to capitalize on this market opportunity. It can leverage its existing carrier relationships with respect to mobile device management and now add in the virus protection element as a result of the F-Secure partnership. "You always have a layer of communication that needs to be taken care of when you are talking about over-the-air updates and communications. We have all that in place, which makes it easier to and query certain configuration settings and so forth," he says. To date, most virus attacks on cell phones and other mobile devices have been for the most part limited to Asia, where such devices are the primary Internet access medium (see box for list of most recent mobile virus outbreaks). Valentin adds that a lot of the viruses have been targeted at the Symbian operating system, but there have also been a couple designed to infiltrate devices based on the Windows CE PocketPC platform.  The timing of the first major mobile virus to hit North America is being debated by security experts, though a recent report from Gartner Inc. says U.S. wireless carriers don’t have anything to worry about for about two years. The report says this is because there is a low penetration of smartphones and a lack of a dominant cell phone operating system.  While consumers are usually in charge of their Internet security, wireless subscribers are likely to look to their carrier for help in this area. Valentin says it’s in the carriers’ interests to get proactively involved in protecting against viruses because an outbreak could cause irreparable harm to the carrier in the form of significant churn and damage to the brand.  "Most people would expect the device to be the responsibility of the carrier, to protect them," he states.