Securing the handset

08 Jan 2007

With mobile devices becoming smarter, security experts see a rising threat from
hackers and spammers set to exploit a new entry point into the corporate network. But many see security offerings as a differentiation point for service providers

As mobile phones and devices become smarter and more complex, they are becoming a greater target for hackers and spammers, potentially creating a massive security threat for consumers and enterprises.

Top security officials say they've noticed an increase in the number of malware, spoofing and snoopware attacks on mobile devices during the past year, an inevitable occurrence in an industry where personal mobile handhelds more and more assume the capability of PCs. As this trend accelerates, the officials say personal and business users will need to place greater emphasis on securing their mobile devices and the networks to which they are connected. In some cases, customers are demanding that carriers, ISPs and vendors assume more of the security burden.

Paul Miller, managing director of mobile and wireless for Symantec, says that the mobile phone presents a special target of opportunity for hackers and thieves because it is something that is always carried with the customer. 'How many times in a day are you in a different room than your mobile phone‾' asks Miller. 'That device on your hip is really a computer, not just a phone.' The developing security challenge, he adds, is that it does not become a vulnerable entry point into a corporate network or VPN that contains a treasure trove proprietary and competitive information.

'It's a natural evolution"&brkbar; now that mobile devices have a computer memory and I/O capacity comparable to the PCs of just a few years ago, we are seeing more problems,' said George Adams, CEO of SSH Communications and Security. 'It has opened up another opportunity to break in [to the network]. It has affected both consumers and the enterprise, but the impact is larger on the enterprise side.'

'The threats we are finding come from all areas of the world,' said Todd Thiemann, director of device security marketing for Trend Micro. 'More threats are occurring on smartphone devices.' Speaking at a recent IT summit in northern California, Thiemann noted an evolving security threat in the mobile market, propelled by the growing worldwide popularity of smartphones such as the BlackBerry and Treo, PDAs and other smart devices. In 2004 such devices totaled just 3% of all mobile handsets sold worldwide. By 2009, they will represent 29% of all handsets sold.

Upwardly mobile

The tremendous popularity of smart handhelds worldwide will present increased security challenges on the future. Thiemann cited research from Gartner predicting that global smartphone shipments will increase 66% to 81 million units in 2006. The research firm also forecasts that smartphone shipments will comprise 12% of total wireless global device shipments in 2007, up from 8% in 2006.

IDC projects that quarterly shipments of smart devices will reach nearly 100 million units by the end of 2006.

Indeed, the use of wireless devices is rapidly rising around the world, setting the stage for an upcoming boom in demand for mobile security products.

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