BYOD threats are among the top security concerns for CSOs and CIOs. The major security firms cover mobile security in their threat reports, but if you look at their findings, you will notice a surprising fact: mobile malware is a miniscule fraction of total malware. For example, in the recent McAfee Labs Threat Report, mobile malware accounted for just 1.9% of total malware, or 3.73 million out of 196 million threats across platforms. So are mobile security threats overblown?
PC threats versus mobile threats
In order to answer that question, we first need to understand the differences between mobile and desktop computing. Consider that people use mobile devices for work very differently than they use desktops and laptops. Mobile devices also have many functions and sensors that do not exist in standard PCs — discreet cameras, video recorders, microphones and scanning apps, to name a few. We have to take into consideration all the ways that mobile devices can be used to record and transmit sensitive information.
The mobile use case
Have you ever forgotten your desktop at the bar? Probably not. Does your laptop usually connect to thousands of different public networks, some of which may be fake networks? It’s unlikely. Mobile devices, in comparison, are easily forgotten and connect to multiple vulnerable networks every day. This exposes your mobile device – and corporate data – to higher risks than a PC that only accesses a work and home network. Indeed, IT’s primary concern about BYOD is losing devices that contain corporate data.
The real personal computer
Although we still call desktops and laptops PCs, your actual “personal computer” is your smartphone. The common smartphone contains enough information for any criminal to steal your identity. If a cybercriminal hijacks the device, they can gain a lot of information. The device has a camera, microphone, and GPS, which means an attacker can record your voice, capture photos and track your location. They can also access personal information that exists strictly on your mobile device, such as your call log and text messages. Today, the thought of a criminal hacking your smartphone is more troublesome than a criminal hacking your computer.
Distribution and ownership
The average enterprise employee uses three devices, according to a survey conducted by Sophos, a provider of IT security solutions. That means that in a typical organization, you will have many more mobile devices than PCs. You must take this imbalance into consideration when assessing the risk of mobile computing. Another important factor is that mobile devices are usually owned by the user and not by the organization. This adds more to the CIO’s problems because simple protections that work for corporate PCs, such as locking the device, will not work with BYOD devices.
Mobile security the top priority
When you consider all these facets of security – and not just malware totals – you will see why mobile security needs to be the top priority for IT. Given the number of personal mobile devices in the workplace and the threats that accompany them, IT needs to find more clever ways to protect corporate information without restricting the user. The high attention BYOD gets from security firms is warranted.
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