Google, Motorola Deal Unlikely to Produce a More Secure Android

Despite Motorola's history of security and innovation, mobile analysts pointed out that until the application model changes, the deal is unlikely to have an impact on Android security.

Google's $12.5 billion offer for Motorola Mobility, if approved, isn't likely to bring a higher level of security to Android smartphones, according to a mobile strategist.
The acquisition is subject to regulatory approval and is not expected to close until late 2011 or early 2012, Google said in its Aug. 15 announcement. Motorola Mobility will operate as a distinct company and an independent licensee of the Android mobile operating system, Google said.
The Google acquisition is "most likely to be perceived as a step backwards in security" among the Motorola team, Aaron Turner, president and founder of mobile risk management company Integricell, told eWEEK. While Motorola has a strong tradition of security from working with government, law enforcement and military customers, Google has "absolutely zero security culture beyond consumer-focused security," according to Turner.
"I think that the Google acquisition of Motorola will not yield any immediate security improvements in the Android ecosystem," Turner said.
Motorola has provided secure communications for government and emergency services customers for more than 60 years and had a "significant security team and culture," Turner said. That was "sidelined" when the handset business was spun off as Motorola Mobility in January 2011 and many of the security experts were laid off shortly after the split.
Historically, Motorola was a "serious player" in security areas such as the public key infrastructure and on developing "business-ready" devices with enhanced security features, Edward Moyle, a senior security strategist with Savvis and a founding partner at Security Curve, told eWEEK. Even after the spinoff, the company has "shown leadership" in the security space.
"I think we can anticipate that the trend is likely to continue here," Moyle said, noting that security issues will continue to plague Android unless the application model changes. The platform itself is fine, but the low barrier of entry for developers, while spurring adoption, also spurs criminal malware development activity. Android's open market approach will continue to see security issues as long as there are problems with infected applications, Moyle said.
Motorola Mobility boosted its ranks again by acquiring startup Three Laws Mobility (3LM) in February. Founded by former Google employees that worked on Android, 3LM makes enterprise security and management software for Android devices. There have been rumors that some 3LM functionality, such as storage encryption and anti-malware tools, would be included in the next version of Android, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich.
However, even with 3LM a part of Google post-acquisition, Turner did not believe that enterprise-grade management and security capabilities will be added into Android anytime soon. There are Motorola and 3LM employees who could serve as leaders and innovators in security at Google, but there has been no indication that Google wants to be an enterprise-focused organization, Turner said.
Google does not have a track record of delivering on enterprise-grade security and has not dedicated the resources towards that, Turner said. The company integrates security features when it aligns with their consumer goals, such as the acquisition of anti-spam provider Postini to make "Gmail safer," Turner said.
The market is pushing Apple and Google to be consumer-oriented, innovating and pushing out features that appeal to the consumer, and enterprises are suffering for it because these devices are proliferating at the workplace, said Turner. "In the North American market and parts of Europe, it's about how shiny and fun devices are and not about security," he said, adding that if phone owners cared about security, Research In Motion with its BlackBerry devices would still be the market leader.
To balance enterprise needs, Motorola Mobility and other OEM partners have developed relationships with key partners in the mobile device management and security space to offer more enterprise-friendly Android devices, said research firm IDC.
Instead of coming up with new security features and baking them into the operating system, Motorola Mobility and Google will likely continue promoting the security app from Lookout Mobile Security, even though it is "just a band-aid" and "not a security solution," Turner said.
The acquisition is "good news" for security vendors as they can supply Android-specific tools just as they've done for Windows all these years and for mobile device management players as they remain attractive acquisition targets, Turner said.