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BLOG: Securing the mobile generation

Jon Andresen | March 30, 2012
While the mobile computing boom presents enterprises with significant business opportunities, the key to success lies in their ability to deal with the accompanying security threats.

Mobile computing has scaled new heights. Beyond the traditional laptops and notebooks, evidence suggests that tablets and smartphones are increasingly making their mark felt in the corporate world.

For example, according to IDG Connect, the iPad has completely replaced the laptops of 16 percent of IT and business professionals worldwide, and has partly replaced the laptop for another 54 percent.

Hardly surprising since employees in many organisations, like those in sales or medical professions, often demand iPads instead of notebooks for their light weight and natural user interface.

Smartphones-with their ability to surf the Web, e-mail and even manage documents and perform other general office productivity applications in a pinch-are set to make an even bigger splash.

Research by Blue Coat predicts that global shipments of these devices will overtake that of PCs and notebooks put together. More importantly, research from Cisco VNI Mobile sees mobile data growing at a compound annual growth rate of 92 percent from 2010 to 2015!

Dark Clouds Looming

While such trends are ideal for office productivity and employee satisfaction, for IT and security professionals, mobile access to the Internet presents a huge security hole that needs to be addressed.

Traditional Web security which comprises software like antivirus software may be suitable within the operating environments of PCs and notebooks. However, the paradigm does not transition particularly well to mobile operating systems, especially since threats are now highly targeted. For example, viruses like Zitmo and Spitmo were created specifically to undermine mobile banking operations. Infected smartphones inadvertently reveal personal information like SMS authentication codes and user passwords. It is no stretch of the imagination to see that similar techniques can be used to gain access to sensitive enterprise assets as these devices are frequently used to interact with the corporate network.

Another limitation that prevents the usual endpoint security techniques-like active scanning and threat analysis-from being effective on handheld platforms is its relative lack of processing power when compared to desktops or laptops. It is not practical or useful to cram the equivalent of an entire desktop security suite into such a small footprint.

In addition, the difficulty IT departments already face in addressing these mobile-related security issues is further compounded by the rising use of social networking for business.

Blue Coat research notes that 78 percent of companies use it to enhance their visibility. However, the flip side of the coin is that 82 percent of companies see Facebook, by far the most popular social networking platform, as their single biggest security threat. More than 350 million Facebook users actively access it via mobile devices. The fundamental security problem this presents is that it becomes difficult to restrict access to only business machines as mobile devices typically mixes both business and personal usage.


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