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Are mobile operating systems secure?

June 8, 2011

It’s easy for consumers to forget about security measures on mobile devices.  There isn’t a lot of press about malware or viruses that attack your Blackberry, Android, or iPhone, but since the market keeps growing, the truth is that it’s really only a matter of time before these devices become targets for the same types of malicious software that we protect against on our PCs.

In fact, in many ways that time is already here, although we don’t hear much about it.  When Apple launched its iOS, the pre-installed browser application, Safari, ran as a root administrator, which was a huge security risk, and allowed early iPhones to be hacked, or “jailbroken”, easily.  These days, Apple has turned things around, and the iOS is probably the most secure of the mobile operating systems, thanks to Apple’s policy of keeping Apps separate from the OS (called sandboxing), their strict regulation of available applications, and the availability of frequent updates.

But that’s not to say that the iOS is now safe from external attacks.  Mobile devices are still, in many ways, an untapped resource that the hacking community is just warming up to use, and that is a major concern for business users.

So what should you do about it?  Fortunately, there are already several 3rd party developers that are creating applications for mobile security.  Symantec and Cisco both offers free mobile virus protection for iPhone and Android.  Spam email, which is a common delivery point for malicious software, can be addressed in a number of ways as well.  Android email is often run through GMail, which has very good built-in spam support, and Apple offers a yearly service called Mobile Active Defense, which filters all incoming email prior to delivery.  Last, if you keep any sensitive business files on your device, it’s probably a good idea to add a file-level encryption service.  Personally, I use iDiscrete on my iPhone ($1.99), which not only includes file encryption, but allows for Wi-Fi file transfers from my desktop.

The fact is that security is always a factor in business, and as we rely more and more on our mobile devices it become that much more important to consider how we keep our information safe.

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