It wasn’t that long ago a cable vendor executive with a short fuse scoffed – and that’s putting it mildly – at the idea that a virus might be transmitted via an IP-centric cable network into a cable modem-based TV set-top and from there into a TV set. Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that many cable vendor execs were scoffing at the idea that lightning could strike a residence, run through the cable wire and fry the VCR that sat in front of a nonaddressable converter.
Fried betas, anyone?
Anyway, the word then was that it would be impossible to transmit a virus over a cable network because cable’s network is closed, and unless you had some disgruntled employee – and everyone loves working for the cable company, just ask the next installer that comes to your home – there would be no way to put that virus onto the IP stream.
That was before IPTV; before DOCSIS 3.0; before $2,000 HDTV sets (OK, they were around then, but they were rare and cost more); and, importantly, before everyone started talking about fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) and receiving IP phone calls, messages and data anywhere and everywhere from wired and wireless connections and through all sorts of devices, including TV sets and home entertainment centers.
And that’s the rub. Nobody would have thought that mobile phones would be susceptible to viruses, but it seems anything that accesses the Internet gets access to more than just unlimited porn. It’s just a matter of time before today’s nimble-fingered texters start getting unwanted spam and scams and even more malicious denial of service (DoS) attacks. Carriers see it coming This has caught the attention of U.S. wireless carriers, said Lorcan Burke, CEO of AdaptiveMobile, an Irish security software provider with customers around the world. But maybe not the cable guys yet, said Brian Baker, CEO of Widevine Technologies.
"In the U.S., we have several carriers buying us for Web surfing," Burke said. "SMS (short message service for all you cable Neanderthals) is less of an issue, but now they’re starting to see the first stages of things."
The progression seems logical. Most computers are loaded with about 18 different forms of virus protection – high-speed data carriers make it part of their packages – and still bugs, worms, SPIT and spam get through more often than German U-boats along the Atlantic Coast during World War II.
The threat has moved to cell phones and smart phones or PDAs, devices with small screens that are the latest additions to the World Wide Web. Can bigger screened TV sets be that far behind, especially as FMC starts to deliver?
"If the box that’s being used is a DOCSIS terminal device, broadband data and accessing Web pages off it and other files, certainly there is the capability to get some type of virus on your machine, and you don’t want that," said Baker. "Today the set-top boxes are not actively (delivering IP Web content and other files to the TV set)."
Yet. Burke said his company is starting to see a spark of interest in Europe where providers like Vodafone and Orange own wireless and wireline networks and are inexorably pushing the two together. It’s also drawn some attention from BT and its 21CN (21st Century Network). Then, of course, there’s always WiMAX, or mobile WiMAX, which got a lot of play this week because it was, after all, WiMAX World week. WiMAX, DSL and cable "We just interface to that whether it’s WiMAX or DSL or any data stream," Burke said. "The key to the operator is to have consistent policies across all those bearers."
As long as the carriers – in this case those players converging their fixed and mobile networks – understand there’s a threat there in the first place.
"I think it depends on how they’re going to use these boxes in the home," said Baker. "As the television set-top boxes have more PC functionality where they have Web browsers and they’re operating off standard operating systems and have sufficient processing resources, these same concerns of PC viruses could potentially exist on those devices just because they’re becoming more PC-like."
Of course, none of his customers have yet approached him about a solution to this potential pending problem. (Enough qualifiers there, guys?) – Jim Barthold