Staff Writer

PERHAPS your smartphone is not quite so smart.

Researchers at Syracuse University in New York have found that some of the most common activities among smartphone users – scanning barcodes, finding free wi-fi, sending SMSes, listening to music and watching videos – could leave the phones vulnerable to harmful “computer worms”.

These worms would allow hackers easy access to sensitive information.

Kevin Du, a professor at Syracuse, has found that computer worms can infiltrate smartphones through apps designed in a specific computer language or code.

They can steal the phone owner’s personal information and the worm can spread to the phone owner’s friends and personal contacts.

“Imagine you’re at the airport and you want to find the free wi-fi. When you scan, you phone is going to display the wi-fi points. That could be an easy channel for a hacker to inject malicious worm code into your smartphone. Once the worm takes control, it can duplicate itself and send copies to your friends via SMS messages, multimedia file sharing and other methods,” Du said.

The attacks targeted an increasingly popular type of app known as HTML5-based app.

Du said traditionally apps were developed using a platform’s native technologies, such as Java in Android and Object C in iOS.

HTML5-based apps do not use platform-dependent native technologies, but use Java-Script instead, which is universally supported by all platforms.

“The advantage for developers is clear: write an app once and it can run on all major platforms,” Du said.

Du and his team have informed developers of vulnerable apps.

Researchers are working to develop solutions to help users and app developers detect and prevent attacks.

“By 2016 it is estimated that more than 50 percent of the mobile apps will be produced using HTML5 technology. It’s just a disaster waiting to happen,” Du said.