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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Shifting Mobile Landscape

articles, mobile
Embracing The Potential & The Perils Of Smartphones
As the popularity of smartphones continues to grow, the challenges and opportunities presented by these ever more-powerful devices continues to stymie the business world. The potential of smartphones, the applications for which could let workers take and submit orders, check inventory, update contact information, and more, is tantalizing  However, the security concerns about safely enabling that access and preventing other, detrimental behaviors are considerable.

Caught in the middle are IT staff and decision makers, who walk a thin line between protecting company assets and increasing workers’ effectiveness in the field. As a result, some firms lock down (or lock out) devices that could boost their bottom line while others play fast and loose with company security. Neither solution, say thirdparty firms and analysts, is a long-term strategy for success.

By The Numbers
If there is any doubt that smartphones have become an important fixture on the business landscape, it is quickly fading. Research firm In- Stat reported in November 2010 that the SOHO (small office/home office) sector for smartphones will grow 18% by 2014 (compared to 2010) and smartphone purchases across all business sizes will increase 14% by that time. Furthermore, according to research firm Ovum, smartphones are increasingly subject to “consumerization”—being employed for both business and personal use. According to a November 2010 report, 75% of businesses allow smartphones to be used for personal use, and 48% have employees who use personal smartphones for business purposes. (A similar study, conducted by KRC Research and Synovate for Juniper Networks, found that nearly 44% of respondents used smartphones for both personal and business purposes.)

Despite these high rates of dual-use, the attitude regarding smartphones is disconcertingly fractured. Of the businesses surveyed, 80% believed such a practice makes corporate information vulnerable to attack, yet only 52% required any form of authentication for mobile users accessing corporate information. A mere 9% imposed best practices such as two-factor authentication with one-time pass codes. Making this particularly disconcerting are statistics like those of the KRC/Synovate report, which found that 81% of respondents accessed the company network without the employer’s knowledge or permission; 58% on a daily basis.

These scenarios, which European security expert Roger Dean recently called “the elephant in the room,” make smartphone security a business necessity, yet many companies continue to dance around it. Why?Because employees—and increasingly businesses—cannot imagine operating without them.

Paradox Found
“With smartphones, people can do all the things they did before on their PCs,” says In-Stat Chief Technology Strategist Jim McGregor. Yet, he points out, the smartphone does not have the long history of vulnerabilities that accompanied PC growth. This, he says, has lulled people into a “false sense of security.”

The vulnerability quotient will only grow as more users migrate away from Research in Motion’s BlackBerry line, long an industry standard due to its robust enterprise-side security. “Three years ago, if there was a smartphone policy, it was BlackBerry Enterprise Server on the back end, BlackBerry on the front end,” says Karim Toubba, VP of product marketing for Juniper Networks’ ( Service Layer Technologies Business Group. “About a year and a half ago, we started to see Android and Apple” in the corporate environment. “People started to bring these devices into the company and demand to be able to use them,” which left IT staff “caught off guard.”

“I cannot tell you how many companies are offering Droids or Evos or iPhones rather than Black- Berrys now,” says McGregor. “We are all [using] Droids.” The Verizon Droid to which McGregor refers runs Google’s Android OS. That poses particular challenges, says McGregor, because there are so many different versions of the OS running on widely divergent devices. Yet, it is poised to control half the smartphone market within five years, according to research firm Piper Jaffray.

Furthermore, he notes, smartphones, unlike PCs, do not use standardized hardware configurations. “To the consumer, they look very much the same, but on the other side of the wall it is completely different,” he says. “With phones, if the motherboard or graphics processor or processor core is different,” he notes, “you have to specially port [rewrite to work with the hardware] the OS and applications.”

That makes it far more challenging for companies seeking to develop broad-based protection for smartphones and all the applications they run. Furthermore, companies hoping to maximize the benefits of these devices can make the problem worse. “Corporations want workers to be able to use these tools,” he says. “They may be customizing applications or writing applications and that can create problems of their own.”

Making It Work
Making these technologies work for the enterprise is a problem for which, McGregor says, “there is no single fix.” He says companies need “multiple security barriers—the networks, the data that is remote, the applications on those devices.” He says that a lot of those technologies have been around for a long time and that they will slowly move toward the mobile market.

Toubba says his firm already has a handle on a solution. Juniper, which has a user base of approximately 30 million for its secure SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer virtual private network) corporate network access solution for laptops, extended that protection to iPhones a year ago. Then, in October, it debuted an umbrella security suite (VPN; antispam; antivirus; firewall; and remote lock, wipe, and locate) that offers a common enterprise-side dashboard for Android, BlackBerry OS, iOS, and Symbian.

Chas Arnold, VP of sales for Atlanta-based technology service provider Dynasis (, says his firm recommends a cloud-based model that enables secure log-in through Citrix or another Web portal. Dynasis also suggests clients use remote device management products paired with strong policies regarding session log-outs, code-based phone locks, and more. “If you sit your phone down and someone picks it up, they could have access to your corporate CRM (customer relations management) software, your accounting software—any application you are running across your network server,” says Arnold. “Firms are caught with the dual challenge of enabling productivity and harnessing the power of mobile devices beyond the laptop,” says Toubba, “while also ensuring they can actually secure the information and the device.”

Wakeup Call
McGregor echoes Toubba’s point, but is less than confident all companies will effectively avoid problems. “The threats are much more complex than they were a decade ago,” says McGregor. “Companies need to look at encryption techniques on both handheld devices and the routers.” Ironically, he says, many mobile processors already have security blocks built into them, but equipment manufacturers have yet to use them to full advantage. “Eventually, we are going to have a major cyber attack,” he says. “Hopefully the wakeup call will be small, and the intervening advances in hardware and software will provide enough support.” ▲

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