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11/3/2011
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Just Because Data Is Portable Doesn’t Make It Safer

Oracle survey finds most smartphone users believe their data is at risk

Oracle recently published survey results showing user perceptions of their security when using smartphones. The paper, "Oracle Communications Future of Mobile" (PDF), provided some interesting results, mainly that smartphone users have a healthy skepticism about the security of these devices.

Sixty-nine percent of users surveyed were using smartphones. That is an enormous number, even compared to a couple of years ago. Equally startling, this survey also revealed that more than 50 percent of respondents see their smartphones replacing their GPS devices, MP3 players, and cameras within the next five years.

One of the most interesting takeaways from the Oracle survey is that only 32 percent of users believe that information stored on or transmitted from their phones is secure. In other words, 68 percent of survey respondents replied “unsure” or “no” when asked if they thought the information stored or transmitted on mobile phones is secure.

App and Browser Usage Among Mobile Financial Services Users
3 Month Avg. Ending June 2011 vs. December 2010
Total U.S. Mobile Subscribers Ages 13+
Mobile Financial Services Category Accessed in the Past Month Unique Mobile Audience (000)
Dec-10 Jun-11 Percent Change
Mobile App Usage      
Banking Information 8,747 12,706 45%
Credit Card Information 4,187 6,003 43%
Mobile Browser Usage      
Banking Information 15,439 17,561 14%
Credit Card Information 8,891 10,430 17%
Source: comScore MobiLens

That doesn’t bode well for e-retailers or e-bankers or the vendors developing applications for mobile payments on their behalf. Moreover, this conclusion belies a recent survey by comScore that shows approximately 12.7 million U.S. mobile users used their personal devices for checking up on banking information by the end of June 2011 a 45-plus percent increase from more than 8.7 million during Q4 2010.

In a prepared statement, comScore vice president for marketing solutions Sarah Lenart addressed the rise of mobile trends, attributing their popularity to “digital-savvy customers” who take advantage of the portability and convenience offered by these devices. As a result, Lenart contends that financial services institutions can expect to see a more engaged audience grow from their mobile channels.

The challenge, especially when data is “in flight” and unrestricted by an internal firewall or the oversight of proactive threat monitoring, is that, convenience aside, above all else security needs to be paramount whether mobile payments occur over a home PC or via a smartphone in the checkout line of a high-end retailer. In either case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Chester Wisniewski is a senior security adviser at Sophos Canada

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