By Lee Youkyung
SEOUL, Aug. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korean wireless users have been gripped by a whirlwind of worries that their do-it-all smartphones may leak personal data following scores of media reports highlighting security flaws in the hottest product in the wireless industry.
Experts say smartphones are not more vulnerable to hacking attempts than personal computers, but the fears reflect how the devices have become an intimate part of daily lives.
Security weakness have been noted in all of the world's major smartphone platforms lately, including the iPhone operating system by Apple Inc., Blackberry software by Research In Motion Ltd. and the Android system developed by Google Inc.
A German government agency issued a warning Thursday that a certain file, especially in PDF format, may allow criminals to read passwords and data and eavesdrop on calls, according to media reports.
The news came as a surprise to those who believe that the iPhone is shielded from malicious software because Apple strictly keeps the App Store as the sole path for downloading and installing new programs, unlike other open mobile operating systems that allow other parties to put up applications on app marketplaces.
The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's largest daily, reported the news on its front page Friday, sounding an alarm for over 840,000 iPhone users in South Korea.
Apple said the company will soon release an update to prevent such attacks.
"We're aware of this reported issue, we have already developed a fix and it will be available to customers in an upcoming software update," the company said in an official statement.
Last month, Google's Android system also came under fire when a free Android mobile application stole private information. Germany's national news agency DPA reported July 29 that private data of as many as 4 million people were leaked and sent to China via an application called Jackeey Wallpaper, citing security experts from a conference by the mobile security firm Lookout.
South Korea's major national television network MBC reported such security risks in smartphones that use Android during prime time news Thursday, sending waves of worries to subscribers of smartphones, which have became widely popular in South Korea. Android phone users in South Korea topped 1 million in August.
BlackBerry, which has been adopted by a string of corporate and government customers around the world who prize security over other features such as a variety of applications, was not cited by the European Union Commission, which chose the iPhone and HTC Corp.'s handsets regarding security concerns.
However, security experts in South Korea said that smartphones are no more vulnerable to outside attacks or malware applications than personal computers.
"There is some exaggeration about recent security concerns around smartphones," said Hwang Mi-kyung, a public relations manager at the security software maker Ahnlab Inc.
"PC and smartphones are similar in terms of what they can do. It is possible that security issues that happened in PCs can be replicated on smartphones," she said. "But you should not be more worried about smartphones."
Many of the events reported in the media, which have not been reported in South Korea yet, are also about the mere possibility of security breaches, rather than what actually occurred, she added. As long as users take care not to lose the phone and follow security guidelines, just like when they use PCs, current programs are sufficient to keep smartphone users safe, according to Hwang.
Other experts even went so far as to say that smartphones are less prone to be attacked than PCs. Handset makers have developed ways to limit how users download and install programs on their phones, unlike PCs, which could be vulnerable to malware just by opening a Website, according to Kim Joong-tae, an IT consultant and head of Seoul-based IT House.
But paranoia over a possible privacy leak is understandable because of the personal nature of mobile handsets, he added.
"It's more difficult to have a privacy leak on a smartphone, but if it happens, the extent of damage will be far more grave than on a PC," Kim said.
Smartphone users in South Korea now can keep daily logs of their expenses, buy and sell shares on the stock market through mobile trading programs and transfer money from their banks. Personal data, such as e-mail addresses, phone numbers and birth dates are saved in their phone directories, distinguishing phones from PCs, he added.
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