The trusting, the diligent and the downright paranoid
The notebook security poll numbers are in
Mobile Workshop The results of the mobile security connectivity poll earlier this week revealed some findings that were to be expected and others that were a bit of an eye opener.
When we asked you how comfortable you were with various notebook PC connectivity options, while some wouldn't entertain the concept at all, most, on balance, said they were fine provided appropriate measures such as anti-virus, firewalls and VPNs were in use.
There is clearly a view that cellular connectivity is more secure than WiFi and other options, which reflects a perception that cellular connections are more difficult to 'sniff' deliberately, and are less prone to ad hoc attack and the kind of security 'accidents' which tend to occur when you put WiFi capability in the hands of unthinking or irresponsible users. Such issues were, in fact, cited when we asked about actual security breaches, which again showed a significant difference between WiFi and cellular:
We should note that all of the above charts have been adjusted to exclude non-users in each category, so the percentages relate to those that actually have users connecting remotely in the ways listed. Having said this, there were still over 400 respondents giving opinions for each individual type of notebook access within an over sample of 576 readers.
Related to notebook PC connectivity is access to applications remotely through public machines such as those found in internet cafes and hotel business centres. As the above charts show, most are really not comfortable with the use of such facilities for business purposes, despite the availability of solutions in this area from a number of vendors. The rule of thumb seems to be that connecting to the corporate network from any machine that you don't have at least some level of control over is not to be endorsed. Incidents concerned with snooping, key-logging and inadvertent leaving of a footprint on the machine were reported, coupled with unexplained data and credential leakage that could be tracked back to public machine usage, even though the exact cause could not be determined.
The lessons that come through from the poll and the anecdotal feedback within it again confirm a general acceptance of it being possible to secure machines and connections at a technology level with the right kind of measures. We are also reminded, though, that the human factor is equally as important to get under control, something we have discussed previously in a research paper available from here.®
Corporate security and phones..
One of the main arguments why cellular transmissions can be realistically considered "safer" is because the protocol is proprietary and it thus takes considerable investment in time and money before "on air" tapping can be done.
Note: it's not actually impossible, just that it takes effort and it's generally cheaper to tap an end point of the conversation unless you're the US and can blow gazillion dollars and set up something like ECHELON (in the UK at Menwith Hill). Part of the reasons that it's possible is because of the way international calls are handled where it is theoretically possible to conduct a main-in-the-middle attack without anyone the wiser.
In case you were under the impression that new shiny 3G made things better, that's not quite the case - the attack vectors just change. 3G call handling and voice transport has been made "IP compatible" so it becomes cheaper to run the provider network, but that means that the signal runs over ordinary TCP/IP the moment it has hit the base station. And we all know there are *plenty* of tools for that.
That change initially produced a couple of little problems for the equipment providers because they were not up to speed on TCP/IP security, causing a couple of month of having to physically inject glue into an RJ45 socket on base system equipment (to ruin it) as it would have otherwise provided a jack straight into the control core (i.e. find cell kit in muddy field, break lock and have an, um, "field" day).
However, rule 1 if you want to keep anything confidential is not to have ANY mobile phone in the same room, - even when switched off they can be used. And your trusty microphone equipped laptop could be doing more than you think too - heaven knows what features Microsoft gave themselves when they updated without your permission.
Pen and paper is fine - as long as you know it's your pen and nobody has touched it.
If you don't want anyone to know where you've been you better leave that phone at home too, especially in the UK it is trivial to set up a tracker. All you need to do is to make sure you borrow the phone in question under control long enough to acknowledge the confirmation SMS - after that you have about a month before your victim will find out. Or use another phone, insert your own anonymously bought SIM, set it all up and then hide it somewhere. Gives you a couple of days before the battery runs out ..
Corporate security? It takes some thinking and the above is only about 10% of it .. Another example would be the use of cyber cafes or airport lounge systems to read corporate email.
Do. Not. Even. Think. About. It.