Versatility of Smartphones Prompts Need for Data Protection

By Michael Barbella — January 03, 2007

Nearly one in four enterprise workers uses smartphones or some other kind of mobile device on the job, and most of these phones pose a security risk to the companies that issue them, recent studies suggest.

"More and more businesses are deploying wireless devices. Everybody wants access all the time," notes Brian de Haaff, VP of product management for Network Chemistry, a smartphone security solution provider. "Smartphones are just as connected now as laptops."

And they're just as vulnerable to data loss and unauthorized access to corporate information. A global survey conducted by Symantec found that most smartphones used for business purposes are purchased by employees, leaving the data that is sent and received on those phones vulnerable to theft or attacks.

"The ad hoc or wait-and-see mobile security approach we've seen corporations use in the past is beginning to change," says Jon Oltsik, a senior analyst with the Information Security Enterprise and Strategy Group at Symantec. "CIOs and IT groups are now considering how the business needs of mobility impact their security policies. Many shops that considered themselves PC-only environments are now grappling with multi-environments like Windows and Symbian on mobile phones for the very first time."

Network Chemistry's RFprotect Endpoint software offers smartphone users a way to secure their data. The software, due out in the first half of this year, will enable IT managers to centrally manage and set security policies for smartphones and laptops, whether they're connected at the office, at home or on the road.

"Accidental employee misuse of these devices and malicious attacks present a major threat to confidential data and corporate assets. RFprotect Endpoint establishes a new security perimeter to prevent data loss and protect wireless connections anytime, anywhere," de Haaff says.

The increasing versatility of smartphones has triggered a slew of products designed to secure the data that is on them. Late last year, Symantec came out with its Mobile AntiVirus 4.0 for Windows Mobile, software designed to protect the data on Pocket PCs and smartphones that run on the Windows Mobile 5.0 platform. Symantec's latest software automatically protects mobile devices from threats transmitted via email multimedia message services, memory cards, cellular networks, WiFi, Bluetooth, or beamed over infrared connections.

McAfee has a similar product called VirusScan Mobile, which protects mobile devices against threats from email, instant messaging and Internet downloads. It also protects multiple entry points, including Bluetooth.

Companies concerned about malware can use the Mobile Anti-Virus for Businesses from F-Secure. The software automatically distributes antivirus updates directly to mobile devices over a wireless connection. An integrated firewall safeguards mobile devices with WLAN connectivity from attacks such as intrusion and malware.

Despite the risks associated with unsecured data, most companies have no policies in place for protecting the content on mobile devices. A study from the Business Performance Management (BPM) Forum found that 40 percent of companies have no measures in place to manage mobile data. The study also revealed that small companies (with revenues under $100 million) face a greater risk of data loss because just 32.4 percent have policies that secure mobile data.

"Laptops and smartphones have a lot of key data in them," de Haaff says. "It's important to protect that information."

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