Viruses on your mobile phone are just a matter of time say security specialists.

Vodafone's recent launch of a New Zealand service that delivers Microsoft Outlook over its cellular network marks the gateway to a new era of virus attack possibilities, say antivirus firms.

Microsoft, Vodafone and HP announced the Outlook deal last week and, while HP is part of the initial promotion, the service will be available on a range of phones and portable wireless devices. Microsoft business development manager Steve Haddock expects other wireless carriers to offer the service in the future.

The basis of the service is Microsoft's MIS (mobile information server) 2002, which includes Outlook Mobile Access, an application that enables users in the field to access Outlook features such as email, contacts, calendar, tasks and intranet applications.

Microsoft and Vodafone say extensive security measures are in place, but Symantec New Zealand manager Richard Batchelar says viruses and other security threats to Outlook are as real in the wireless world as in the desktop PC environment.

He says that viruses attacks on Outlook Mobile Access and other wireless email and data applications is a question of when rather than if.

Co-Logic E-Secure IT alert service owner Arjen de Landgraaf says sending a text message to a mobile phone is "probably more secure" than sending an email to an email address, but with the development of services such as the MIS 2002-based one "hackers will now target the generic vulnerabilities in mobile phones — it's happened already and the current level of security isn't enough to prevent it".

He says the principle of mobile access to Outlook and other email services is good but vulnerabilities, once identified, will need to be patched, as they are with wired communications.

Vodafone spokesman Don Pointon says the WAP security standard WTLS (wireless transport layer security) covers all WAP transmissions and text messages are incapable of delivering viruses.