The Increasingly Mobile World of Computing

February 12, 2007 at 8:48 am | Posted in Technical | 1 Comment

Once upon a time IT staff didn’t have to worry about people from their company walking home with sensitive data in their pockets, or leaving it in a hotel room after check-out. Those days, however, are long gone.

This week’s technology news will no doubt be absorbed with the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona. 60,000 people will crowd together to see the latest and greatest in wireless networking. Many new devices will be revealed; there are already leaks concerning Samsung’s rival to the iPhone, and the latest business model of the Blackberry. Microsoft is also rumored to be releasing Windows Mobile 6 this week, its most capable mobile OS to date. With this version, users will be able to run SQL at the palmtop level.

These devices are, of course, capable of continuous internet connectivity via an ever-expanding network of wifi coverage, not to mention wireless internet connectivity included in cellular phone contracts, such as Cingular’s Edge networks, and the pervasive 3G wireless network.

Pundits are calling this the era of “pervasive computing”, and they aren’t wrong. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a smartphone or PDA with voice print, fingerprint, or some other biometric identification technology, so I suspect IT teams are going to have to find a way to secure these mobile devices with some sort of policy-based security plan. I’m also concerned that there doesn’t seem to be much emphasis on finding a way for mobile devices to transmit data securely.

By default, mobile computers are not password-secured. This means if one of these handheld devices is lost or stolen, the data can often be read by any five-year-old or career criminal who picks up the device. Remember how resistant everyone was to passwords when they first became a policy? We will have to overcome that hurdle all over again, as users of mobile devices have become accustomed to instantly accessing information in the palm of their hand. We will have to impose strong password policies just as we do with laptop and desktop PCs.

Also, in the vast array of mobile devices on the market, no one has developed a cryptographic standard for the transmission of handheld computer data to a central network. It is up to the IT staff to find some method of creating a secure pipe, so that packet sniffers can’t simply browse the data as it flies through the air.

Apathy is the enemy in this case. Although IT staff are already stretched thin keeping abreast with new infrastructure technologies and staying on top of an increasingly hostile networking environment, I’m concerned that wireless and mobile devices could be the achilles’ heel of many corporations’ security stances.

There are some companies with solutions for the mobile user, and my hope for this week’s 3GSM World Congress is that those companies will step up and knock our socks off. I think they would be filling a great need if they did.

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