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mobile security (wireless security)

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: A guide to modern mobile application development strategies
Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore, Robert Westervelt

Mobile security is the protection of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other portable computing devices, and the networks they connect to, from threats and vulnerabilities associated with wireless computing. Mobile security is also known as wireless security.

Securing mobile devices has become increasingly important in recent years as the numbers of the devices in operation and the uses to which they are put have expanded dramatically. The problem is compounded within the enterprise as the ongoing trend toward IT consumerization is resulting in more and more employee-owned devices connecting to the corporate network.

SearchSecurity.com's 2012 enterprise mobile security survey polled 487 IT security professionals and IT managers. The survey found the following top five mobile security concerns:

1. Device loss was the top concern. If an employee leaves a tablet or smartphone in a taxi cab or at a restaurant, for example, sensitive data, such as customer information or corporate intellectual property, can be put at risk. According to Marcus Carey, a security researcher at Boston-based compliance auditing firm Rapid7 Inc., such incidents have been behind many high-profile data breaches.

2. Application security was the second-ranking concern. One problem is mobile apps that request too many privileges, which allows them to access various data sources on the device. According to Domingo Guerra, president and co-founder of San Francisco-based Appthority Inc., many mobile apps -- especially free ones -- are built with ties to advertising networks, which makes contacts, browsing history and geolocation data extremely valuable to application developers. As Guerra put it, "Developers want to monetize, consumers want free apps and then ad networks will pay developers to get all of that juicy data from their users." According to survey respondents, leaked corporate contacts, calendar items and even the location of certain executives could put the company at a competitive disadvantage.

Another concern is malicious or Trojan-infected applications that are designed to look like they perform normally, but secretly upload sensitive data to a remote server.

3. Device data leakage was the third-ranking mobile security issue. Nearly all of the chief concerns identified in the mobile security survey, from data loss and theft to malicious applications and mobile malware, are sources of data leakage. While most corporate access privileges on mobile devices remain limited to calendar items and email, new mobile business applications can tap into a variety of sources, if the enterprise accepts the risks, said mobile security expert Lisa Phifer. Increased corporate data on devices increases the draw of cybercriminals who can target both the device and the back-end systems they tap into with mobile malware, Phifer said. "If you're going to put sensitive business applications on those devices, then you would want to start taking that threat seriously."

4. Malware attacks were the fourth-ranking mobile security concern. A new report from Finland-based antivirus vendor F-Secure Corp. found the vast majority of mobile malware to be SMS Trojans, designed to charge device owners premium text messages. Experts say Android devices face the biggest threat, but other platforms can attract financially motivated cybercriminals if they adopt Near Field Communications and other mobile payment technologies. An F-Secure analysis of more than 5,000 malicious Android files found that 81% of mobile malware can be classified as Trojans, followed by monitoring tools (10.1%) and malicious applications (5.1%).

5. Device theft was fifth on the list of top concerns. Smartphone theft is a common problem for owners of highly coveted smartphones such as the iPhone or high-end Android devices. The danger of corporate data, such as account credentials and access to email, falling into the hands of a tech-savvy thief, makes the issue a major threat to the IT security pros who took the survey.

 

See also: BYOD (bring your own device), BYOT (bring your own technology), graynet, shadow IT

This was last updated in November 2012

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