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mobile security (wireless security)

What is mobile security (wireless security)?

Mobile security is the protection of smartphonestabletslaptops and other portable computing devices, and the networks they connect to, from threats and vulnerabilities associated with wireless computing.

Why is mobile security important?

Securing mobile devices has become increasingly important as the number of devices and the ways those devices are used have expanded dramatically. In the enterprise, this is particularly problematic when employee-owned devices connect to the corporate network.

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. IT departments work to ensure that employees know what the acceptable use policies are, and administrators enforce those guidelines.

Without mobile device security measures, organizations can be vulnerable to malicious software, data leakage and other mobile threats. Security breaches can cause widespread disruptions in the business, including complicating IT operations and affecting user productivity if systems must shut down.

A lack of mobile security can lead to compromised employee, business or customer data. If an employee leaves a tablet or smartphone in a taxi or at a restaurant, for example, sensitive data, such as customer information or corporate intellectual property, can be put at risk.

mobile device security threats
IT pros should keep an eye out for these mobile threats.

Application security is also a mobile security concern. One problem is mobile apps that request too many privileges, which allows them to access various data sources on the device. Leaked corporate contacts, calendar items and even the location of certain executives could put the company at a competitive disadvantage. Another concern is malicious software or Trojan-infected applications that are designed to look like they perform normally, but secretly upload sensitive data to a remote server.

Malware attacks are a common mobile security concern. 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.

How does mobile security work?

As is the case with securing desktop PCs or network servers, there is no one single thing that an organization does to ensure mobile device security. Most organizations take a layered approach to security, while also adapting longstanding endpoint security best practices.

Some of these best practices pertain to the way the device itself is configured, but other best practices have more to do with the way the user uses the device.

Device security. From a device configuration standpoint, many organizations put policies into place requiring devices to be locked with a password or to require biometric authentication. Organizations also use mobile device security software that allows them to deploy matches to devices, audit the OS levels that are used on devices and remote wipe a device. For instance, an organization may want to remotely wipe a phone that an employee accidentally leaves in public.

End-user practices. Some end-user mobile security best practices might include avoiding public Wi-Fi or connecting to corporate resources through a virtual private network (VPN). IT staff can also educate users on mobile threats such as malicious software and seemingly legitimate apps that are designed to steal data.

What are the benefits of mobile security?

The most obvious benefit to mobile security is preventing sensitive data from being leaked or stolen. Another important benefit, however, is that by diligently adhering to security best practices, an organization may be able to prevent ransomware attacks that target mobile devices.

At a higher level, a solid mobile device security plan can help to ensure regulatory compliance. A strategy also makes mobile devices and the software that runs on them easier to manage.

What are the challenges of mobile security?

One of the biggest challenges to mobile device security is the sheer variety of devices that employees potentially use. There are countless makes and models of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. Mobile device management (MDM) software generally supports the more popular devices and the latest mobile OSes, but not all security policy settings work on all devices.

Another challenge to mobile device security is the constantly evolving threat landscape. At one time, there were relatively few mobile threats for organizations to worry about. As devices became more widely adopted, however, cybercriminals began increasingly targeting mobile platforms.

What are the types of mobile device security?

Mobile device security often centers around the use of MDM. MDM capabilities are often available in enterprise mobility management and unified endpoint management tools, which evolved from the early device-only management options.

However, organizations typically use other security tools to enhance their mobile device security. This might include VPNs, antimalware software, email security tools that are designed to block phishing attacks and endpoint protection tools that monitor devices for malicious activity.

Mobile device security vendors and products

There are several vendors that offer mobile device management and security tools. Some of the tools available include:

  • Scalefusion
  • Hexnode Unified Endpoint Management
  • Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security
  • VMware Workspace ONE Unified Endpoint Management
  • Google Endpoint Management
  • N-able Remote Monitoring and Management
This was last updated in May 2021

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Comparing the leading mobile device management products

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