Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

IBM Launches Service to Secure Smart Phones at the Office

It’s not exactly a news flash that IT administrators are struggling with one big new demand from their bosses and employees right now. It’s often referred to as the “consumerization of IT,” a phrase I generally dislike. But in practice it means that corporate IT departments are being pushed and pressured to support pretty much any mobile device that an employee wants to use.

Gone are the days when you’d get a company-issued BlackBerry and laptop locked down and secured to within an inch of its life. Now, everyone — from the CEO and the board of directors on down to interns — expect to get their corporate email, access to internal corporate networks and documents on their personal iPads, iPhones and Android devices.

IBM today announced a new service aimed at helping IT admins get control of the devices they’re being asked to support. Big Blue calls it IBM Hosted Mobile Device Security, and its capabilities include making sure personal devices comply with corporate security policies, protecting them against malware, tracking user activity and making sure network connections are secured. It’s working with Juniper Networks on the service. And it covers pretty much every smartphone platform you can think of: Apple’s iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Nokia’s Symbian, and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile.

The BYOD — or “bring your own device” — trend is the sort of thing that gives IT administrators night sweats. A Dell Kace survey of 750 IT managers found that 87 percent of companies have employees using some kind of personal device accessing a corporate network. The same survey found that 62 percent of IT admins feel they don’t have the tools to properly manage them all.

Phones get lost, for one thing. A lost phone that can still access confidential information is a liability. And worse, because of the value of information they can store and access, hackers are paying more attention to mobile devices than ever before. A study by IBM projects that the number of software weaknesses that can give a criminal access to data stored on or accessed by a phone or tablet will double this year over 2010. More or less nonexistent as recently as 2006, IBM’s X-Force security unit tracked 15 exploits last year and expects to see more than 30 this year. And malware on the Android platform is also on the rise.

If it sounds like a business opportunity, you’re right. Mobile security companies have been springing up. Lookout Security is one that comes to mind. As mobile devices multiply, especially with younger people just entering the workforce, you can expect to see a lot more activity from companies large and small around making sure they’re secure. As is often the case with IT security, some of that will be wasted effort, because too often security is something you consider only after something bad has happened, not before. But not always.

(Image from Wikipedia.)


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik