RSA Conference To Spotlight Mobile Security

This year's conference will delve into the world of mobile security, from malware to management
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Sometimes even the tiniest devices can have a big impact on security. The case in point is the smartphone in many people's pockets.

With the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) culture spreading throughout corporate IT, organizations big and small are being forced to talk about how they are going to manage the mix of mobile devices accessing their networks, and this year’s RSA Conference in San Francisco has built a brand new session track to deal with the topic of mobile security.

The topics of the sessions run the gamut, from a discussion of the National Security Agency’s plans for mobile computing to building security into mobile applications. But a central theme of more than one talk is the issue of management.

“The BYOD policy in the enterprise is, surprisingly, gaining significant momentum and it's something IT hasn't had to deal with before,” says Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle. “It certainly never happened with laptops, for example. One factor driving BYOD demand in the enterprise is how quickly mobile devices models change - everyone wants the latest cool gadget. The other, probably more significant factor, is the disappearing line between employees' work and personal lives. It doesn't make a lot of business sense to put up a lot of IT roadblocks for people that want to work on weekends, evenings, and holidays."

In a recent survey of more than 6,000 organizations across 43 countries, researchers at Symantec found mobile computing was cited by 41 percent of respondents as among the leading IT risk areas -- more than any other category. Dubbed the 2012 State of Mobility Survey, the research also revealed that 24 percent classified the mobile computing risk level as either "extremely high risk” or “somewhat high risk.” Forty-one percent described it as neutral.

“A lot of companies still lack a BYOD policy given the relative newness of the trend, and don’t spend a lot of time educating users on the risks,” notes Webroot senior threat research analyst Armando Orozco, who is slated to give a presentation at the conference on techniques for analyzing Google Android malware.

With the multiple platforms and operating systems available, staying updated on existing security holes and available patches could be troublesome for an organization, Orozco says. Additionally, lost or stolen mobile devices present the risk of data leakage.

“We don’t believe that locking down devices will help,” says Daniel James, mobile security expert at Webroot. “What would be better is to incorporate a policy that would limit data access for individuals using unsupported devices. And perhaps a tiered approach could be implemented which gives various access levels to network resources based on certain compliances an employee takes: if you accept a managed device, you have full access.”

Businesses that embrace mobility also face the prospect of securing the applications they make for those devices. According to the Symantec report, 30 percent of enterprises surveyed have either already implemented an app store where employees can get officially supported apps for their device, or are in the process of doing so. Businesses are starting to realize a mobile app that has their brand on it or that manages access to corporate data is just like any other application that can put their organization at risk, says Chris Wysopal, CTO of Veracode.

“Mobile developers are challenged to fit security testing into their rapid development lifecycles,” Wysopal says. “Starting with a framework such as Good Dynamics [application development APIs] and performing automated testing is a good start. On top of that, manual testing should be performed for high risk apps that manage sensitive data or transactions. Developers should not forget that if the mobile app connects to a back-end Web service that the Web service needs testing, too. Static analysis and manual testing should be performed here.”

“Mobile computing is changing the culture of how we do business today and with it the entire information technology process and procedure set required to support the user,” says Tyler Shields, senior security researcher at Veracode. “In many ways the decision has already been made for businesses of today. The real question is how do we properly secure this technology given the mix of personal and business data on a single device. In the short term, the answer is mobile device management solutions that allow organizations to properly control and enforce application level and operating system policies. In the long term, the answer is more grey.”

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