Want secure Android devices? They'll cost you

Google's 3LM soon-to-be subsidiary brings iOS-like management to Android, but only to device makers who sign up

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What does 3LM's technology actually do for Android?
Because the Android OS itself lacks the same kind of security and management APIs found in iOS, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry, there are a bunch of tools already available to fill in part of the gap.

For example, you could install a client app such as NitroDesk TouchDown that provides a secured Exchange-compatible Outlook-style functions, using the Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) protocol supported by Exchange and other email servers such as corporate Gmail. Or you might find a similar app from one of the MDM vendors that ties to their MDM server.

One forthcoming option that looks promising for such management is the beta Divide app from Enterproid. It creates a separate "partition" on Android with its own EAS-managed email, contacts, calendar, tasks, and messaging apps, plus lets specified apps be installed only in its environment, so corporate and user environments are kept separate. And it lets IT wipe and set EAS policies on the Divide environment, in the same way TouchDown allows within its app despite the lack of native Android support for those policies. Thus, the user apps, data, and communication are segregated from the business's apps, data, and communications. Divide's potential pitfall is that it uses its own management console, so using it is a separate activity from managing other devices. But Enterproid says it will license the Divide APIs so other MDM vendors can incorporate it. (Divide is expected to ship in 2012.) AT&T plans to resell the app and service under the Toggle brand, initially just for Android 2.2-based smartphones, in early 2012.

Or you could use Motorola Mobility's current line of business-oriented Android smartphones that bring Android 2.x smartphones up to Android 3.x tablet levels of encryption and security.

Why even bother with Android devices that implement 3LM's technology? The obvious reason is that it is made native to the device, so it works outside a single container (which is how NitroDesk and the MDM client apps work). And it does the kinds of things that iOS can do if used with an MDM tool, but not Android today, such as remote application install, application locking, selective as well as total device wipe, credentials management, manage applications' access to corporate resources such as networks and data, and VPN access management.

The 3LM security layer also promises to add a few capabilities not found in iOS or Windows Mobile:

  • It provides mobile application management (MAM) capabilities in addition to MDM capabilities -- high-end MDM tools as well as specialized MAM tools do this today for some mobile OSes, but MAM is not yet broadly deployed in most MDM tools nor often accessible via mobile OSes' native APIs.
  • It will do selective encryption, such as for individual apps' workspaces, in addition to the whole-disk encryption supported in Android 3.0 tablets (but not Android 2.x smartphones other than some Motorola models) and in iOS.
  • It will do "breadcrumb" tracking of device access and location.
  • It will monitor the device status, such as for troubleshooting and maintenance (some MDM tools, such as BoxTone's, already do that today via their client apps).

None of these capabilities are of the "whoa, Nelly!" variety, especially without EAS support, though they'll be appropriately welcomed by IT. But they bring me back to my original question: Why isn't this part of the Android OS itself? It should be. With 3LM becoming part of Google, it now can.

By the way, if you're curious what the name 3LM means, it comes from "three laws of mobility," a take on sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics," which is the guiding principle behind 3LM's approach to security, says CEO Moss. It's the right approach in a "consumerized IT" context. But as with those smart robots in Asimov's fiction, it needs to be universally deployed, as part of Android itself -- whether or not 3LM remains a Google-owned company.

This article, "Want secure Android devices? They'll cost you," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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