Beware Cell Phone Spam

You may have escaped from it so far, but there are things you should worry about as you send and receive text and pictures messages with your cell phone.

The first is that you may not stay away from spam for long. In Japan and Europe where MMS messages are more widely used than in the U.S., MMS spam is a very big problem.

For example, according to Francisco Kattan, Director of Product Marketing for OpenWave, a supplier of MMS and web services used by cellular service providers, "In Japan Vodaphone's system sees spam in as many as 95 percent of the call initiations." OpenWave provides spam-blocking services used by Vodaphone and others there and in Europe.

Cell phone users victimized by unblocked spam have it even tougher than normal e-mail users, most obviously because every message received makes their phone beep, but more importantly because most providers charge users for every message they receive.

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And, while cell phone providers also charge for messages sent, which you might think would deter spammers, it doesn't. "They just use a prepaid cellular phone account and by the time the system realizes they've exceeded their limit, the messages are gone and on their way to hapless cell phone users," says Kattan.

Spammers also get around the charges by simulating a cell phone from a personal computer, and by spoofing through bulk messaging services that normally send sports scores, stock prices, and the like to large numbers of users.

Viruses haven't really plagued cellular phone users yet, but they could because the MIME protocol is used to attach pictures and could just as easily be an executable. That could be a real disaster because one of the things that makes spamming so easy to do in the cell phone arena is a spammer's ability to use random dialing techniques so loved by telemarketers.

There are other problems with using cellular phones for text "and picture " messaging, most notably that there is no interchange system that readily carries messages between providers. Users should be grateful in that such interoperability would virtually guarantee the emergence of spam in cell phone messaging.

The system is also somewhat primitive in that very often unless each user has the same make and model phone messages, especially picture messages, cannot be successfully transmitted. Kattan says that Openwave does provide a compatibility solution using its web browser technology that also enables non-picture phones that can browse the web to see pictures.

This story courtesy of TechWeb.