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Mobile Handsets Becoming A 'Smoking Gun'

Rise in mobile devices in the enterprise adds new challenges to incident response

You have to be fast when seizing a mobile handheld device in the wake of a security breach -- a dead battery or still-live signal could wipe out or taint the evidence stored on it.

As handheld devices gain more data features and storage, they also are increasingly becoming a smoking gun in an enterprise data breach, especially when it comes to the insider threat, security experts say. But getting hold of these devices and freezing the evidence on them isn't so easy.

"The biggest data breach [with handhelds] today is probably lost or stolen handhelds," says Randy Abrams, director of technical education at Eset. "The fact that many of these devices support MicroSD card of at least 2 gigabytes of capacity makes them extremely agile for transporting data. Insiders have no problem copying large amounts of data from a PC to their smartphone. Even if the possession of the data is legitimate, a lost device with unencrypted data can be a gold mine for the finder."

But the evidence on the devices can be easily lost or tainted. Amber Schroader, president and founder of Paraben, says the key is to maintain power on the device and protect it from any changes that could contaminate the evidence on it. "You can put aluminum foil around it to make sure the signal is blocked" or put a Faraday cage around it to protect the evidence, she said during a presentation at the recent CSI 2008 conference.

The first responder to a handheld device could have less than a minute to properly seize and contain one of these "volatile" devices, she says. If the battery dies, so does the forensics data that was on a Windows Mobile device, for instance, Schroader said. "Every three days a new digital device goes into the consumer market," she said, and there aren't enough forensic examiners to keep up with them.

Schroader noted that in many cases today, investigators are conducting full forensics analysis in the field and don't have the luxury of sending the device off to a lab. "They're doing more live-on-the-scene instead of processing it in the lab, which can take over nine months with an analysis," she said. Instead, you can process and grab evidence off of a handheld right then and there, she said.

"The biggest IP [intellectual property] leaks are in...my pocket," she said. And with 2-GB SIM cards arriving next year, one of these devices could store an entire customer list that could be lost, stolen, or sold, for instance.

Aside from locking down the handheld by maintaining a power supply and cutting off its wireless signal, investigators also should seize any accessories to the device that could contain evidence, Schroader said. That includes synch stations, cases, SIM and media cards, and headsets. Off-site data storage and synchronization as well as service providers could also have critical data to a forensics investigation.

Forensic tools then help gather images and other data for the investigation. Ideally, these tools provide a repeatable process that can also verify the results, according to Schroader.

What about malware attacks via a handheld device? "Antimalware for these devices is a low-cost layer of defense," says Eset's Abrams, whose company recently released an AV product for smartphones. "But encryption and data access control are what the IT manager should be really concerned with today."

Still, handheld devices can spread malware to the enterprise. "Autorun works great with MicroSD cards," Abrams says. "I would disable autorun in a corporate environment if security was my mandate."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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