New Hacker Targets: Cell Phones And PDAs

Vendors offer security technologies, but it's not enough.

October 17, 2005

3 Min Read
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There was a time when the biggest mobile computing risk was losing a laptop. How quickly things change. Cell phones, smart phones, and PDAs increasingly are being used to access business applications, E--mail, and the Internet. In sync with that trend are new security threats to mobile devices that store and distribute company information.

They're becoming victims of zombie attacks and other forms of hacking; malware; hybrid PC--mobile viruses like Comwarrior, Bluejacking, and Cabir; and spam. And for the first time, many businesses are finding they need plans for securing mobile devices, including what methods to use and rules for how devices can be used.

"Putting together policies and procedures to add security for a device ... is becoming a real challenge," said Larry Hardin, senior manager of communications in the IT group at food--service distributor Sysco Corp., during a session at last week's Mobile Business Expo in Chicago. The issue has come to a head at Sysco, Hardin said, as more traveling salespeople start using devices other than laptops. For easier management, Sysco requires that employees use only company--distributed mobile devices for work and has developed service--level agreements with all its wireless vendors.

Partners In Security
Securing E--mail was the motivation behind a partnership between Research In Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry, and security software vendor PGP Corp. The companies last week unveiled PGP Support Package, due later this year, which is designed to provide encryption, decryption, digital signatures, and verification for E--mail sent and received on BlackBerry devices.

However, the support package will only work for customers who already have deployed PGP's Universal technology, which lets businesses manage encryption and digital signatures from a single console. It will be distributed exclusively by PGP through its 175 resellers.It's a step in the right direction. But there still aren't enough security options for mobile devices, says James McGibney, operations manager at construction company Rudolph and Sletten Inc. About 150 of the construction company's workers use RIM's mobile E--mail service with BlackBerrys or Good Technology Inc.'s mobile E--mail with Treo devices, so they can stay on top of any alerts or changes during construction jobs. Because of a lack of good vendor options, the company's in--house IT department is writing an application that will scan messages before they're sent through Good Technology's E--mail service, McGibney says. "Imagine the impact of a worm attached to E--mail infecting your PDA and sending itself to everyone on your address book," he says. "We don't want to take chances."

Hackers and thieves are one problem----losing mobile devices is another. Consider this: Travelers left 85,000 cell phones and 21,000 PDAs and Pocket PCs in Chicago taxis in the past six months, according to recent research conducted by Pointsec Mobile Technologies, a data--encryption company. Mobile devices often don't offer strong user authentication, meaning almost anyone can get to their contents. "Basic passwords aren't enough," says Stuart Vaeth, chief security officer at mobile security company Diversinet Corp. and co--chair of the Initiative For Open Authentication's technology group, an IT vendor group fighting identity theft.

Diversinet last week released a version of its multitoken wallet for Symbian OS mobile phones. The wallet, which already is available for the Microsoft Windows Mobile Pocket PC, is an application that resides on a device and lets users add and manage all of their mobile tokens in one place. It's designed to be used with mobile tokens that Diversinet activates wirelessly. The tokens provide passwords that change each time a user accesses a secure network, server, or Web site via a mobile device and are generated in software or delivered as a text message on the device. Diversinet says it's planning to extend the multitoken wallet to additional mobile--device platforms.

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