Mobile handset security issues

November 2008 Products

Recent trends in the mobile industry show an exponential rise in the interest in open mobile platforms and terminals. With the arrival of this openness, it brings a plethora of new possibilities for customers to implement newer applications. Apart from that, developers would be able to create new applications using all the features of the handset.

However, this new wave of openness also brings with it a serious threat from hackers and spammers. The underlying hardware and firmware of a mobile device are continuously vulnerable to the ever-increasing embedded hacker community. More often than not, the trust levels, which are necessary in the lower end of the mobile handset, are always prone to security breach. There is a current trade off in the mobile industry between mobile user experience and potential data loss.

Frost & Sullivan believes that the right strategy to establish an optimum balance for the developer community and the end user while reducing the risk posed by hackers is the biggest challenge for open mobile platforms. Although new wireless technologies are growing at a rapid pace, there is a worldwide fear of the inherent opportunities it brings for the malware community.

Short range wireless technologies such as Bluetooth have also been exposed to hackers due to their inherent security vulnerabilities. Bluetooth hacking techniques such as bluejacking and bluesnarfing have resulted in heavy data and revenue losses.

Although the mobile industry has taken several initiatives to protect their devices, such as implementing subscriber identity module (SIM) locks and international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) codes, the black market of stolen devices not only provides evidence of the technical deficiencies in them, but also acts as an ideal platform for hackers to learn more about security technologies and vulnerabilities. As the industry moves toward implementing high-end security technologies in mobile devices, the criminal community is expected to consolidate existing skill sets in order to crack the toughest security codes.

The trend toward more openness in mobile phones comes with a serious cause for concern for manufacturers, as implementing advanced security technology over a plethora of available applications is a complicated task. Coupled with this trend is the fact that data storage on mobile phones is increasingly significantly, making them more appealing targets for cyber criminals.

A great deal of research is expected to be centred on the antitheft measures and security counter measures in mobile devices, thereby bringing some hope to the end user, the mobile manufacturer, and developer industry. The arrival of new security technologies promises to assess and mitigate various issues with mobile data theft. However, much remains to be done, and the cat and mouse game between the mobile and the hacker industries will be ongoing. There is still a vast industry-wide need to find an optimum balance between critical aspects of the mobile handset, the unavailability of which could quite easily compromise businesses for mobile platform developers and service providers.

For more information on Frost & Sullivan’s technical & market analysis, please contact Patrick Cairns on patrick.cairns@frost.com.

For more information contact Patrick Cairns, Corporate Communications - Africa, Frost & Sullivan, +27 (0)18 468 2315, patrick.cairns@frost.com, www.frost.com




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