Mobile Security Topics – Highlights from a Recent Speaking Event

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Mobile Security Topics – Highlights from a Recent Speaking Event

Recently I was asked by a client to attend the annual Trucking Industry Defense Association (TIDA) in Las Vegas to speak about mobile device security in the workplace.  This event is attended by hundreds of lawyers each year who represent the trucking industry in various capacities.  With the workforce steadily becoming more mobile and conducting a large amount of business outside the office on devices other than desktop computers, the loss of sensitive data is a real concern.

I was tasked with comparing and contrasting the three major operating systems in both phone and tablet form, which are BlackBerry OS (RIM), iOS (Apple) and Android (Google).  Each of these platforms have its own strengths and weaknesses, and while I was not there to push my recommendation of one platform over the other, I felt that the attendees should be aware of the risks associated with each of the platforms.

I began with market share, pointing out that Android has now eclipsed both iOS and BlackBerry as the most popular smartphone OS in the world.  iOS has held pretty steady and gradually began to taper off, while Android has skyrocketed.  By the same token, the BlackBerry platform, once a coveted device for any businessman, has plummetted, now only garnering about 11% of the global smartphone market share.  The tablet side of things has the iOS iPad comfortably on top with over 60% of the market share, while Android is steadily gaining, though not as rapidly as the smartphone market, with 30%.  The BlackBerry offering (Playbook) has met with lackluster reviews and horrible sales for 3% of the market share.

First up for discussion was the Android platform.  Here are a few bulletpoints from my presentation regarding Google’s offering:

PROS

  • The most popular smartphone OS in the world
  • Huge selection of devices ranging in size in features (physical keyboard, 1080p video recording, HDMI output, etc.)
  • Has a microSD card slot for increased storage, application loading, and backups
  • Most customizable platform (custom keyboards, dialers, widgets, etc.)
  • Support for Adobe Flash
  • Microsoft Exchange support using ActiveSync (also used by the iOS platform)
  • Most impressive hardware available (dual core processors, 8mp cameras, 1080p recording and more)

CONS

  • Battery life is probably the poorest of any platform
  • Arguably the least stable OS
  • The many variations in hardware and display resolutions make it very difficult to creat apps that function universally
  • Touted ‘open platform’ leaves the market place largely unregulated (see recent reports of rogue apps stealing data)
  • The Android OS does not seem as streamlined and ‘connected’ (simple tasks like placing phone calls take too many keystrokes)
  • Least secure device overall due to ability to sideload apps and use unregulated market place
  • Most data intensive platform (could cost users on tiered data plans more money)

I then offered these facts about the Apple iOS platform:

PROS

  • Best use of touch in any device (intuitive, fluid, responsive)
  • Best web browser hands down
  • Largest application selection by far (currently approaching 500,000 and all are interchangeable between phone and tablet)
  • Lengthy application process has yet to approve a reported rogue software
  • Very stable and reliable OS (very rarely requires reboot)
  • Apple manufactures the hardware and software for optimum compatibility
  • Ease of use and very quick learning curve
  • Microsoft Exchange support via ActiveSync (also used by the Android platform)

CONS

  • Web browser lacks Flash support
  • iOS is mostly consumer centric (no file browsers, root file access, etc)
  • No external storage options
  • Poor battery life and no user replaceable battery
  • Lengthy approval process for applications with no clear understanding of the process (some apps rejected with little explanation)
  • Must be used with iTunes for synchronization, OS updates and backups
  • Requires an expensive 3rd party software to offer similar enterprise features as BlackBerry (IT Policy, call logging and restricting, SMS logging, etc)

Finally I spoke about the BlackBerry platform:

PROS

  • Arguably the best reception and call quality
  • All data is compressed and will save money for those with tiered data plans (20% data use compared with iOS and Android)
  • End to end encryption of data from server to device and back
  • Battery life is the longest of the three platforms
  • Stable and reliable OS
  • RIM manufactures the hardware and software for optimum compatibility
  • The most comprehensive email, contacts and calendar client of any platform (set Out of Office, message filters, alerts, etc)
  • True sync of an organization’s public contacts
  • Most secure and manageable platform by far
  • Ability to log, activate, or deactivate functions at a granular level far beyond any other platform

CONS

  • Requires server side software installed to support most enterprise functions (IT Policies, public contacts sync, logging)
  • Weakest browser of all platforms
  • Least apps available of the platforms and one of the more difficult to code for
  • Hardware is not as advanced as the other platforms (processor, display, camera)
  • Amount of IT support required for enterprise management may be greater than the other platforms

My presentation also included much more in depth discussions regarding security for both lost phones and employee owned phones, as well as keeping the corporate data secure when employees decide to change jobs.  At the end of the day, the discussion boiled down to one simple question…What is more important?  The data and client relationships your company has acquired over the years, or the desire of your employees to be able to play Angry Birds and Words with Friends?

While ActiveSync is a free out of the box solution that gives users access to corporate data such as email, contacts, calendars and can make life much easier for users in the mobile workforce, ActiveSync alone is not sufficient when it comes to protecting that same precious data from moving on with users when they leave the company.

A question and answer session followed and many users were surprised at what they had learned about their devices and current systems.  If you have any questions regarding which platform to choose or how to secure your current platform, feel free to ask!

More About the Author

Will Lyles

Solution Architect
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