When most people think of the term “computer,” an image of a cell phone does not come to mind. However, today’s smart phones (such as the iPhone, Blackberry, and Droid) are indeed computers. Not only do they have an operating system and storage capabilities, but they also have their own software applications – called “apps” for short. Once users understand that smart phones are actually mini computers, those who are charged with keeping corporate computers safe have some serious planning to do.
Concern #1: Can data on your smart phone become compromised? According to the mobile phone security firm Lookout, Inc., who recently scanned nearly 300,000 free applications for Apple Inc.’s iPhone and phones built around Google Inc.’s Android software, many apps secretly pull sensitive data off users’ phones and deliver it to third parties without notification. The data can include full details about users’ contacts, their pictures, text messages, and Internet and search histories. The third parties can include advertisers and companies that analyze data on users. Currently, the information being gathered is used by companies to target ads and learn more information about their users.
This is a major concern not only for users, but also for companies whose employees use smart phones for work-related activities. If advertisers can get access to people’s demographic and usage information, what information could hackers and identity thieves claim?
Concern #2: Is it possible to get a virus on your smart phone? Because a smart phone is a mini computer, you could have an infected phone just as you would an infected laptop or desktop. Launching an app is just like launching any other software. And just as some traditional computer operating systems are more vulnerable and attacked more often than others, so too are certain smart phones.
In most companies, the discussion has not included concerns about smart phones having viruses or being hacked…yet. But as smart phones and apps evolve, such things will happen more and more often. Therefore, there’s great need and opportunity for companies to make their smart phones and applications even more secure.
For example, JP Morgan Mobile recently launched an iPhone app that allows private banking clients to view their account balances, transaction history, and investment activity, as well as transfer funds between accounts, pay bills and credit cards, and send wire transfers all from their smart phone. The good news is that we’ve dealt with security issues in the past, and we can do so again. Think back a few years when such things as online shopping, online stock trading, and online banking first came out. People thought these were crazy concepts that would never take off. Why? Today, however, such online transactions are commonplace, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t engaged in at least one of these online activities. People started accepting these online tasks as routine because banks and other companies put in security measures and policies to protect users. The same thing needs to happen now in terms of smart phone security.
So what does the future of smart phone security look like? Not only will it entail anti-viral apps that can scan your smart phone, but it will also mean having security measures such as biometric identification (i.e. facial recognition and voice and fingerprint) as well as better encryption in place for the next evolution apps – what I’ve coined Enterprise Level apps. These are apps customized for such wide-scale applications as purchasing, logistics, supply chain management, sales, patient care, and military security, just to name a few. Realize that tomorrow’s apps will be like having a virtual assistant by your side. For example, in the medical field, we’ll see apps for disease management, for patient records, and for remote diagnostics. The old will remain; people are simply changing their preferred interface device.