How secure are mobile devices? - PC Retail

How secure are mobile devices?

Laura Barnes finds out about the issues IT departments face as more mobile devices enter the workplace, and how retailers and resellers should be selling them
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Every year the general public is made aware of the latest advancements in mobile technology. Whether it’s the latest smartphone launches announced at the shows like CES, constant advertising across TV, print and billboards from the likes of Microsoft, or sharing amusing memes about iPhone vs Android on Twitter, mobile technology is a big part of people’s lives.

Gartner reported that worldwide smartphone sales grew 9.7 per cent in Q4 2015, and according to Canalys, 1.5 billion smartphones will ship worldwide in 2016.

It’s not just at a consumer level anymore though, and as mobile devices continue to penetrate the workplace, trade shows like Mobile World Congress, Distree, CeBIT and Computex continue to expand their coverage of more business- focused smartphones, tablets and laptops.

As mobile device tech changes so quickly, businesses are having to make sure they keep up-to- date with the latest security issues to ensure company info stays safe. And retailers have to also make sure their knowledge is great when talking about security issues.

MOBILE SELLING

How does the advancements in mobile device technology, and the security issues around them, affect how retailers sell these products?

BullGuard’s security expert Steve Bell comments: “Selling a mobile phone is quite similar to selling a computer. Aside from obviously trying to understand a customer’s needs and help them choose the right physical device, it’s also important to discuss how to manage them.

“This could involve educating children on safe internet use if the device is being bought for a minor, advice on how to protect sensitive data if a phone is lost or damaged, and new and emerging threats such as mobile malware.”

Bell believes that the security side of things can be a key differentiator for retailers.

“It allows them to offer a level of service and support to customers that they may not find elsewhere,” he explains.

“Building strong relationships with key channel partners that have the resources to offer this advice can also be mutually beneficial,” he says.

“Partners have an opportunity to promote their own products, retailers can stand out from the crowd, and customers are equipped with the tools they need to deal with a changing mobile market.”

SECURITY SHORTCOMINGS

In 2015, Kaspersky detected 884,774 new mobile malware programs – an almost three- fold increase on 2014.

Last year Ofcom announced a ‘landmark moment’ – where smartphones overtook laptops as the most popular device for getting online.

But Kaspersky’s principle security researcher David Emm warns that whilst this may not be a surprise, we should take this as a warning to change the prevailing consumer mindset that a smartphone and a laptop are not the same, and don’t require the same level of protection.

“A smartphone is effectively a mini computer, and is just as vulnerable as a laptop to a cybercriminal,” Emm tells PCR. “It is important to remember, as we live increasingly connected lives, that our mobile devices have become a very valuable target for cybercriminals. This is because of the multitude of personal information they collect – especially as we increasingly use them for work, online banking and even to track our health, fitness and calendar events.

“If we add to this, apps like Facebook, Whatsapp and Apple Pay – our entire personal lives are at risk of being stolen,” he says.

Bell agrees: “Mobile devices are very much on hackers’ radars. We shop and bank online using mobiles and we inhabit our social media worlds using them.

“There will always be a place for desktop computing but the world in effect is going mobile. When you marry this to the fact that organised crime is also getting more deeply involved in online skulduggery there’s only one possible outcome – wide-scale hacks aimed at mobile devices.”

A LOOK TO THE FUTURE

Thanks to Moore’s Law (the observation that the number of transistors in a circuit will double every two years) smartphones are now almost as powerful as a desktop or laptop. Bell believes that this evolutionary arc is set to continue well into the future.

“Some people claim that smartphones will eventually replace desktop computers but that’s not necessarily true, though they will evolve into sleeker and more powerful versions,” he tells PCR.

“Businesses all over the world rely on office tools for essential daily tasks and you can’t use these tools on smartphones with the same effectiveness as you can on a desktop PC. It’s difficult to see larger general purpose computers be completely replaced by smaller mobile devices, simply because you need a PC for graphics-heavy tasks, analytics and so on.”

Despite this, Bell does expect computing devices to become smaller yet more powerful. He also thinks we’ll see some form factors such as tablets slide into digital oblivion.

“The keyboard is still king and an essential component of mobile computing, but with the advent of voice recognition and different interfaces such as infrared keyboards and brain- computer interfaces, we are likely to see mobile devices become the frontier devices in a brave new world of computing.

He concludes: “As high- speed mobile networks become the norm, mobile devices will also become access points for powerful cloud-based computing.

The Shazam app is a case in point, it effectively accesses super computing power to identify music and we will see more of this type of usage as the cloud effectively becomes a powerful processing core for mobile devices.”

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