With the new version of Apple’s iPhone on the way, enterprises need to be ready to deal with the security implications of employees’ smart phones.
Whether IT organizations are ready or not, smart phones are a reality for enterprises. Gartner analysts predicted in a January report that smart-phone sales will reach about 173 million in 2008, a jump of 42 percent from last year. The iPhone 3G, slated to be available July 11, is Apple’s latest attempt to capitalize on consumers’ desire for Internet-enabled phones with more and more functionality.
But with adoption of these devices increasing, organizations need to assess their policies to control any potential threat to corporate data. For Rob Israel, CIO of John C. Lincoln Health Network, in Phoenix, that means allowing only BlackBerry and GoodLink devices on the network.
“We like those because of the encryption capabilities as well as the ability to wipe them remotely if anything happens,” Israel said. “We don’t allow smart phones to sync to our network and actually upload or download any information besides e-mail, calendaring and stuff like that. We don’t allow smart phones to be used to store clinical information or full patient information.”
The policy, although not technically part of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), is based off those guidelines to address concerns about data loss and inappropriate use of the devices, he said.
As in all things security, a policy is only as effective as users’ adherence to it. IT organizations need to make sure mobile device security is automatic and persistent, said Dan Dearing, vice president of marketing and product management for Trust Digital.
“Data encryption should not require special behavior by the user, such as placing sensitive data in special folders,” Dearing said. “Many users of smart phones are technically savvy enough to skirt around IT policies by hard-resetting a device and removing the security software. The low cost of the smart phone also makes it easy for users to replace a standard-issue or lost smart phone with a new device and merely self-configure the device to sync with IT servers.”
Malware Outbreaks and Brain-Locks
Unlike personal computers and laptops, smart phones have not seen much in the way of malware outbreaks. The biggest threat to smart-phone security is simple absentmindedness, according to Yankee Group analyst Andrew Jaquith.
“Leaving your phone in a taxi or in an airport X-ray bin is the biggest security risk,” Jaquith said. “Thus, the best thing companies can do is make sure the phones are backed up or synced to a server [or desktop]. Enterprises also need a remote-kill tool that will make sure the phone is turned into a brick if it is lost.”
The iPhone 3G’s SDK (software development kit) will certainly make it easier to write native software that behaves badly, he said. But, if anything, the SDK does more good than bad because applications will need to be digitally signed to run and the certificates used to sign the binaries are issued by Apple.
“Although details on how Apple is enforcing this are a little fuzzy, it seems pretty likely that they will have to tools they need to prevent bad software from running,” Jaquith said. “If software turns out to be malicious, Apple could take several actions. If it’s an [application] that’s available through their App Store, in theory they could simply remove it from the App Store directory, or revoke the developer certificate that signed the application. …
“In practice, we’ll see how this goes-it implies that Apple will need to police the apps they offer in their store. How vigorously they do this is an open question.”