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Mobile security threats amped up

Device loss, misuse of apps increasingly intense

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Mobile security threats amped up

What are the latest mobile security threats and trends? Dionisio Zumerle, research director at Gartner, shared his insight into the mobile security enterprise landscape in a Q&A released just before the firm’s Security and Risk Management Summit Sept. 14-15 in London:

Q: What is the threat that creates the highest mobile risk for businesses?

A: The reality is that the threats targeting mobile devices have not changed. There are still two main causes of data loss on mobile devices: physical device loss and misuse of apps.

What has changed is the severity of the consequences. Mobile devices are now storing and accessing more-sensitive data. In healthcare, for example, an increasing number of physicians are using tablets to process sensitive data about their patients. In finance, brokers are using their smartphones to exchange sensitive information. In these scenarios, a device that falls in the wrong hands and does not have adequate protection can be the source of a major data breach.

As for users’ misuse of apps, the problem is that the majority of apps are invasive. Many ask for permission to access the user's contact list, personal information, and location. In addition, many employees use personal file sharing apps with corporate documents. Few of these apps are truly malicious, but the vast majority do not offer enterprise-grade security and are frequently the subject of credential leaks and other security incidents. This "bad hygiene" results in a multitude of enterprise data breaches, most of which go unreported.

Q: As threats get more advanced on mobile devices, how will mobile operating systems (OSs) provide better security?

A: If you have a speed limit of 120 km/h and you use three cars that can reach 150, 180, and 220 km/h, all three cars will take you from A to B. There will be preferences, there will be more convenient solutions, but the basics will be covered in the three cases.

We have a similar situation today regarding inherent security mechanisms across the mobile OS spectrum. While there are some security differences between mobile OSs, the basic security features such as integrity protection, encryption, app isolation, and kernel protection are covered by all four main OSs.

What differentiates mobile security for enterprises is OS manageability and updates. IT leaders and CISOs need to ensure that they can granularly and consistently manage mobile devices, and have assurance from the device and/or OS vendor that there will be fast security updates for the lifetime of the devices.

Q: Too many organizations focus on protecting against malware. Are there other areas they should put emphasis on?

A: Mobile devices are seeing a rapid growth in malware attacks. Frequently used techniques are repackaging legitimate apps into malicious ones and apps that act as a man-in-the-mobile. However, those attacks are specifically targeting consumer apps that have transactional value.

In the last few months we have also witnessed the development of mobile attacks that can be applied across the enterprise, are more realistic, can be exploited remotely, and can do greater damage. However, we have yet to see these attacks translate into actual damages for organizations.

IT leaders and CISOs should take some basic precautions to minimize the risks of mobile malware:

  • •          Require basic enterprise security policies. Define device passcodes including length and complexity as well as retry and timeout standards.
  • •          Specify the minimum and maximum versions allowed of platforms and OSs. Disallow models that cannot be updated or supported.
  • •          Ban jailbreaking and rooting [collectively, removing a restricted mode of operation. “Jailbreaking” refers to Apple devices, “rooting” refers to Android devices, per PC Magazine] and restrict the use of unapproved third-party app stores. Require apps to be signed. 
  • •          Organizations’ emphasis should remain on preventing data leakage through physical loss or leaky apps.
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