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Mobile Internet is set to be the next target for malicious software and viruses in 2013, experts warned, calling for industry cooperation to protect users in China from being attacked.
More threats will target mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, rather than personal computers in the coming years, said Chen Yong, vice-president of Kingsoft Security, one of the nation's earliest anti-virus software developers.
The threat is set to increase because of the booming smartphone user numbers, experts predicted.
China is likely to become the biggest market for mobile devices running Android and Apple Inc's iOS operating systems by March next year, overtaking the United States, predicted Flurry Analytics, a global mobile application analysis organization.
The number of smartphone users in China hit 330 million in the third quarter of this year, an increase of 13.8 percent year-on-year, data from the Internet analysis company iResearch Consulting Group showed.
The country's Internet giants, including Baidu Inc and Tencent Holdings Ltd, said earlier this year that they will "actively" work with Internet security developers to provide better services to customers.
In September, Pony Ma, chairman and chief executive officer of Tencent, pledged to set up a 1 billion yuan ($159 million) mobile security fund to encourage startup companies to offer anti-virus services for the nation's surging smartphone users.
"The threats are becoming more sophisticated as an increasing number of mobile devices are introduced to the market. We are in urgent need of beefing up the Internet security team to protect the company's 700 million users," said Zeng Yu, vice-president of Tencent.
Baidu, the nation's most-used Web search engine, announced the establishment of an anti-virus alliance with professional Internet security providers including Kingsoft and Beijing Rising Information Technology.
Industry insiders said Tencent's and Baidu's vigorous participation was triggered by an intense race with Qihoo 360 Technology Co, a relatively small player but one that poses threats to Baidu and Tencent's most profitable areas such as online gaming and searching.
Both companies dismissed comments saying their move was a response to competition from Qihoo, a company that was initially an Internet security provider in China.
Meanwhile, analysts also suggested the industry could become overheated as the giants step in.
"The number of security threats targeting personal computers is declining but the number of anti-virus providers has been growing rapidly over the years," said Chen from Kingsoft.
In addition, the lack of a profit model could further hinder the industry.
"In the early stages, every player in the industry will adopt the free-to-use model because they need to expand user numbers to survive," said Jesse Song, vice-president of Westcoast Labs Greater China, an independent test facility of information security products.
Chinese anti-virus companies started to offer free software to individual customers in 2008 to try to expand market share.
Song expects a new business model will emerge in a few years, boosted by Baidu and Tencent's involvement.
Because users will have to face more "precise attacks", some Chinese users are going to need tailored anti-virus software.
"Others will choose to pay for anti-virus software in order to have advertisement-free versions," said Song, adding that the moves could further heat up the competition.
(China Daily 12/10/2012 page17)