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Wireless Security & the Role of MDM

With the FBI estimating that computer crime costs a sobering $67 billion per year in the United States alone, it is no surprise that security is a top issue for computer users, ISPs and the enterprise. Viruses, worms, denial of service attacks, spam and various kinds of malware and scams have all contributed to the need for comprehensive security solutions. As mobile devices gain many of the capabilities (and vulnerabilities) of PCs, the mobile space is becoming an increasingly important part of the security battlefield.


David Ginsburg 
David Ginsburg
When there were few devices spread across many largely proprietary platforms, there was little incentive for the writers of viruses and other malware to target wireless devices. However, in 2007, more than 145 million Smartphones will be deployed, including more than 68 million Symbian devices and approximately 15 million Linux and Windows Mobile devices each. In 2010, approximately 266 million smartphones will be shipped, according to estimates by In-Stat, compared with 233 million PCs sold in 2006. Mobile payment systems which use handsets to conduct payments, pioneered in Japan and Korea, are gaining popularity worldwide. The combination of large numbers of devices on similar platforms as well as the temptation presented by mobile payment and other advanced features provides hackers, malware developers and other criminal elements temptations and opportunities at least as large, if not larger, than the PC platform.

Defending against these threats requires a comprehensive strategy involving multiple layers of security, which when deployed together provide protection from most foreseeable threats. While the challenges will continue to vary, evolve and become more complex, so will the solutions. A recent advance is the inclusion of a security framework in Mobile Device Management (MDM) systems, providing operators a central, integrated solution to manage and implement security policies and systems.

An optimal device solution will include protection on the handset for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB, IR, SIM & Micro SD cards, in addition to the more traditional SMS, MMS, e-mail and wireless connections. A handset security client also should be engineered with consideration of the limited CPU and battery capacity available on a device and it should not slow or interfere with the normal operation of the handset or drain the battery. Ideally, the security solution will be able to perform deep packet inspection down to the application layer and be able to provide protection from spam, redirects, phishing and similar attacks. The client should support both blacklists and whitelists, allowing the operator to block undesired content as well as ensure that content from authorized sources is not blocked. MDM can be used to both install the security client on the device and manage it once installed. When needed, it also can be used to trigger mass updates and scans or alter security and other configurations on any one device, group of devices or all devices depending on the situation.

Physical security of the handset is also a consideration. According to Asurion Insurance Service, 25% of handsets are lost, stolen, damaged or destroyed every year. With up to a quarter of the user base being affected every year, there is clearly a market need to address the challenge of lost and damaged handsets. MDM provides the network operator with unique capabilities to respond to these challenges. A customer can call the support center reporting a lost or stolen phone. The operator would then remotely lock the device and trigger a backup. Once the backup is done, the phone can be wiped. If it is recovered, the backed up personal data can be remotely restored and the phone unlocked, otherwise the personal data can be migrated onto a new, replacement handset.  

Looking forward, handsets will continue to grow more powerful and will share more of the capabilities of PCs. Increasing numbers of handsets will run operating systems and applications shared with or similar to those on desktop systems and they also will share some of the same vulnerabilities.

Indeed, Independent Security Evaluators cites a telling example found in the iPhone, which runs versions of Apple's desktop MacOS and Safari browser. They were able to implement an exploit that would give an attacker control of an iPhone, giving access to personal data, via Web, Wi-Fi access point, or a link in an e-mail or SMS message. As the number of handsets running open operating systems surpasses the number of PCs, hackers and criminals will step up to the handset challenge as well. MDM, already playing a vital security role in terms of patching firmware, operating systems and applications, will continue to grow into more of a central, strategic part of the operator's infrastructure.

When security is implemented on a wireless network via MDM, the operator is given a powerful and flexible tool. This tool facilitates immediate response when faced with virus outbreaks or other issues requiring quick action across the entire network and millions of devices. Equally important, this approach helps the network operator deploy and maintain proactive, strategic security policies and systems.

Ginsburg is vice president of Marketing and Product Management for InnoPath Software, a provider of Integrated Mobile Device Management (iMDM) solutions for wireless carriers, mobile operators and handset manufacturers.

Source:  Wireless Security & the Role of MDM,
By David Ginsburg, WirelessWeek - December 02, 2007
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