Many of you are thinking about giving your employees access to business applications on smartphones. Yet over 60% of you feel your company's smartphones are somewhat secure and that your policies and safeguards need improvement. Security risks will always exist, but there are steps you can take to mitigate them. I thought I'd help by outlining best practices for smartphone security in a list, courtesy of expert panelists that got together this week at the Mobile Business Expo conference in Chicago.The majority of the worms and viruses that threaten smartphones today are proof-of-concept and not nearly as detrimental as some PC viruses that have emerged over the years. But as smartphones drop in price and advance in functionality, they'll be in the hands of more people and, in turn, be susceptible to security breaches. What can you do?
- "Know the technology you're getting into," advises Shane Coursen, senior technology consultant at Kaspersky Lab, a provider of antivirus software. That is, know the security risks before you purchase a smartphone. (Quick fact: Windows Mobile and Windows CE are more susceptible to attacks than the Palm OS or RIM's BlackBerry, since hackers are familiar with the Windows platform on PCs.)
- User education is very important. Train your employees on best security practices and make sure they understand company policies about smartphones, such as using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to connect to the Internet via a public Wi-Fi hotspot or downloading attachments from e-mail messages.
- Find a company that can help you manage smartphones, network connections, and security updates. That company can be a wireless carrier, a device maker, or an independent software vendor, says Rick Hartwig, director of product management at wireless messaging company Good Technology.
- Consider centralized purchase of smartphones for employees as a form of security, which would give you a handle on who's using which smartphone for what type of purpose. "This approach allows you to lock down devices and make sure that people can't bypass VPNs, for example," says Andy Willett, senior VP at NetMotion Wireless, a provider of mobile VPNs.
- Figure out what exactly you're at risk of losing and what you're trying to protect. This should help you determine the security measures you need to take and which software tools to deploy, says Matt Zanner, mobility solutions manager at HP's ProCurve Networking.
- If you rely on smartphones that use a thin client, a method for accessing applications via a Web browser so that nothing is stored locally, encryption is a great line of defense for data that's transported between back-end systems and smartphones.
- Passwords are a way of protecting mobile devices that have data stored on them, but hackers can often install a back door to sniff out a password, so it's not enough, says Kaspersky Lab's Coursen. Installing a firewall on a smartphone can prevent the exfiltration of data.
- Invest in antivirus software that will protect your smartphones from malware transmitted through e-mail and multimedia messages that are downloaded from memory cards, cellular networks, or Wi-Fi, as well as those that are transmitted by Bluetooth. Set a policy where you can update this type of software over the air instead of asking employees to turn in 200 smartphones for a manual installation.
Companies have to start treating smartphones with the same care they treat PCs and laptops, so taking these measures has become a necessity rather than a choice. Security is one thing you don't want to be stingy with.