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The next battleground: Cyber security for mobile devices

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Virus protection and other forms of online security have been a huge concern for telecommunications network administrators and the mobile workforce since the "Love Bug" took a big bite out of the Internet in 2000. At the time, the "Love Bug" traveled using purloined e-mail addresses. The subject line read "I Love You" and came from the address book of friends and colleagues. Needless to say, it traveled far and wide with incredible speed.

Over the last 10 years all computer users have become more sophisticated in protecting the integrity of their networks at the office and at home. Firewalls have improved the security of the work environment while virus scanning software such as those offered by McAfee Inc. protects personal PCs and laptops.

The new battlefront for security has gone mobile. The introduction of a greater number of handsets with different network connections and operating systems has raised the issue of how to protect corporate and personal networks from attacks.

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The mobile device of choice for corporate networks has been and continues to be Research in Motion's BlackBerry. The reason the BlackBerry is seen as the best in breed is that corporate security officials like the ability to control data that users share. It's the same capability that has governments in the Middle East and Asia concerned about how it might be used by dissidents, terrorists, and their political opponents.

The current market share for mobile operating systems is a real horse race, with RIM in the lead with 35 per cent, Apple Inc. running a close second with 28 per cent, Microsoft Corp. further behind with 19 per cent and Android by Google Inc. rounding out the pack with 9 per cent.

The rub on the Apple suite of products, according to some corporate cyber security experts, is that the pass code and encrypted backup passwords are too easy to corrupt. Even if that is the case it hasn't hurt the market acceptance of Apple's gadgets. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and other large institutions are currently testing the iPhone as an alternative to the BlackBerry. In addition the iPad has enjoyed quite the reception since being introduced in April. It is forecast to reach over 9 million units sold in 2010. Not bad for eight months work.

Everything I have learned about cyber security comes from the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators (IAFCI), which represents all the professionals from police services and financial institutions who are tasked with protecting the public and the financial system from the bad guys.

I had the pleasure of delivering a keynote address to their members, and in preparing for that speech I learned that the telecommunications networks that drive our financial system are constantly being probed. Every single day some bad actor gets up out of bed with the full-time job of hacking into your accounts and absconding with your assets. These criminals usually act in groups and many are located in parts of the former Soviet Union and Asia.

The other fact that I learned in conducting my research for the presentation is that as banks and corporations harden their defenses against hackers, it's the customer that becomes the easiest and most inviting target.

McAfee recently reported that the popularity of downloading music and video onto mobile devices provides an opening for cyber attacks. The company advised that users should avoid promotions that offer free content. These sites are 300 per cent more likely to be the chum that gets the fish rising to the hook.

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Intel Corp.'s recent acquisition of McAfee for $7.68-billion in cash was a move motivated by a desire to expand their portfolio of security solutions. Intel also intends to further explore opportunities to integrate security measures directly onto their chips. McAfee had acquired Smartphone security software providers Trust Digital and TenCube before the Intel deal.

The security of information that travels over telecommunications networks doesn't get the attention it deserves because it's viewed as a white-collar crime. Most of our law enforcement resources are spent trying to manage violent crime while the vast majority of average citizens are more likely to be a victim of a financial crime, online or otherwise. To the cyber criminal, your accounts and information are just plump hens waiting to be plucked and stewed.

Happy Capitalism!

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About the Author
Lou Schizas

Lou Schizas is an equities analyst, investor, entrepreneur, professor and television and radio personality - and a true believer in the happiness-inspiring powers of capitalism. More

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