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Smartphone security gets better: Blanket bans no longer inevitable

King Canute approach to iOS and Android no longer a runner, says Symantec

Top three mobile application threats

Built-in mobile device security is better than that of PCs, but still insufficient, according to Symantec. A new whitepaper from the net security giant, entitled A Window into Mobile Device Security: Examining the security approaches employed in Apple's iOS and Google's Android, looks at the security strategies behind Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

Siân John, Symantec's UK security strategist, said that both platforms are open to many established attacks even though "mobile devices have more security baked in". Even so, the sandboxing controls can be bypassed and encryption circumvented. For example, although Apple iOS encrypts SD cards, any authorised application has access to data on a device.

Symantec reports a 43 per cent increase in mobile vulnerabilities during 2010 alone, albeit from a low base. The raw figures increased from 106 in 2009 to 149 vulnerabilities in 2010.

There's around 80 million mobiles in the UK, 12.8 million of which are smartphones. Attempting to impose blanket bans is becoming increasingly difficult if not impossible, especially when senior execs demand intranet access for the iPads.

"The Blackberry might still be preferred by security experts but the decision is not being made by them," John explained. "The consumerisation of IT means that more and more people are bringing their iPhone and Android into work. With the arrival of the iPad there's now a business reason for supporting iOS."

"Just saying no is no longer an option for many businesses because people will just find a way around blanket restrictions. One alternative is to develop a strategy and associated controls that manage the use of smartphones and tablets in enterprise environments."

iOS's security model offers better protection against traditional malware than Android, primarily due to Apple's rigorous app and developer certification process. Google's model is more open, and while that makes it easier to develop applications for the platform, it also makes things easier for the bad guys. This, in turn, has led to a recent increase in Android-specific malware.

"The main danger still comes from people leaving devices on a train or on the back seat of a taxi rather than malware, but that's not to say malware isn't a problem," John concluded. ®

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