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Mobile security threats and trends, according to Gartner

By Shannon Williams
Fri 11 Sep 2015
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Ahead of the Gartner Security & Risk Management Summit 2015, September 14-15 in London, U.K., Dionisio Zumerle, research director at Gartner, has shared his insight into the mobile security enterprise landscape in 2015, including the key threats and trends. 

“The reality is that the threats targeting mobile devices have not changed,” Zumerle says. 

“There are still two main causes of data loss on mobile devices: physical device loss and misuse of apps.”

However, Zumerle says the severity of the consequences have changed. 

“Mobile devices are now storing and accessing more-sensitive data,” he says. “In healthcare, for example, an increasing number of physicians are using tablets to process sensitive data about their patients. In finance, brokers are using their smartphones to exchange sensitive information.”

In these scenarios, Zumerle says a device that falls in the wrong hands and does not have adequate protection can be the source of a major data breach. 

“As for users' misuse of apps, the problem is that the majority of apps are invasive,” he says. “Many ask for permission to access the user's contact list, personal information and location. 

“In addition, many employees use personal file sharing apps with corporate documents. 

“Few of these apps are truly malicious, but the vast majority do not offer enterprise-grade security and are frequently the subject of credential leaks and other security incidents,” Zumerle explains. 

“This ‘bad hygiene’ results in a multitude of enterprise data breaches, most of which go unreported.”

As threats get more advanced on mobile devices, Gartner questions how mobile operating systems can provide better security.

“If you have a speed limit of 120 km/h and you use three cars that can reach 150, 180 and 220 km/h, all three cars will take you from A to B,” Zumerle says. “There will be preferences, there will be more convenient solutions, but the basics will be covered in the three cases,” he says. 

“We have a similar situation today regarding inherent security mechanisms across the mobile OS spectrum,” Zumerle explains. “While there are some security differences between mobile OSs, the basic security features such as integrity protection, encryption, app isolation and kernel protection are covered by all four main Oss.”

According to Zumerle, what differentiates mobile security for enterprises is OS manageability and updates. 

“IT leaders and CISOs need to ensure that they can granularly and consistently manage mobile devices, and have assurance from the device and/or OS vendor that there will be fast security updates for the lifetime of the devices.”

Gartner says too many organisations focus on protecting against malware, and questions if there other areas they should put emphasis on.

Zumerle says Mobile devices are seeing a rapid growth in malware attacks. “Frequently used techniques are repackaging legitimate apps into malicious ones and apps that act as a man-in-the-mobile,” he explains.

“However, those attacks are specifically targeting consumer apps that have transactional value. 

“In the last few months we have also witnessed the development of mobile attacks that can be applied across the enterprise, are more realistic, can be exploited remotely and can do greater damage,” says Zumerle. “However, we have yet to see these attacks translate into actual damages for organisations.” 

Zumerle says IT leaders and CISOs should take some basic precautions to minimise the risks of mobile malware: •    Require basic enterprise security policies. Define device passcodes including length and complexity as well as retry and timeout standards. •    Specify the minimum and maximum versions allowed of platforms and OSs. Disallow models that cannot be updated or supported. •    Ban jailbreaking and rooting, and restrict the use of unapproved third-party app stores. Require apps to be signed. 

“Organisations' emphasis should remain on preventing data leakage through physical loss or leaky apps,” Zumerle adds. 

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