McAfee aims to shield networks from PDA viruses

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SUNNYVALE, CALIF. -- Network Associates' McAfee division last week released new software designed to protect corporate networks from viruses carried on PDAs and other handheld computers.

Called VirusScan Handheld, the software aims to help companies deal with the growing number of employees who use PDAs to transfer files between their work and home PCs. Users can easily download a virus in a Word or Excel file to their PDAs from their home PCs, and then introduce the virus into their corporate networks when they synchronize the devices with their PCs at work, says Ryan McGee, a product marketing manager.

"Handheld devices are almost as dangerous to a corporate network as the floppy disk," McGee says.

McAfee's new product is installed on a user's work PC and on the user's PDA, and scans for viruses as files are transferred to and from the PC. The software checks for "all the regular types of viruses you'd be able to check for using a PC version of the product," McGee says.

VirusScan Handheld can be downloaded to a PC from the Web and installs itself the next time the PDA and PC are synchronized. The software updates itself automatically over the Internet, and is available for each of the four main device platforms: Palm's Palm OS, Microsoft's Pocket PC and Windows CE, and Symbian's EPOC.

VirusScan Handheld is essentially the same product the company already offers for home users, but is now priced and packaged for businesses, McGee says. Pricing starts at $12 per device for 5,000 devices.

While McAfee's software may keep viruses from being passed between a handheld computer and corporate network, it doesn't prevent viruses from being delivered wirelessly to the PDA in the first place. Only one or two significant viruses have hit wireless PDAs and cell phones, but many industry watchers see wireless as the next big challenge for security software vendors -- and hackers.

"As virus writers become more versed in writing for that [wireless] environment" offering protection against viruses delivered over the airwaves will become critical, McGee says.

"We're working on that challenge, and we hope to introduce a product soon, hopefully before the virus writers get there," McGee says. "We're challenged in [the wireless] environment with the processor power and the memory that's available to us. The good side is that the virus writers are challenged by those restrictions, too."

F-Secure, one of McAfee's rivals, became one of the first vendors to offer antivirus software for wireless devices.

McAfee can be reached at www.mcafee.com

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