Securing mobile data more important than viruses

Hype about mobile viruses is overshadowing the need for better data security

Enterprises with workers that can access corporate data from mobile devices should be less concerned about mobile viruses and more focused on setting and enforcing rules for securing the data, said speakers at Symbian's Smartphone Show in London on Tuesday.

Very few real mobile viruses have actually proliferated in the market, said Morton Graubelle, executive vice president of marketing at Red Bend Software, a company that offers products that allow over-the-air installation and management of firmware for mobile devices. Instead, the companies whipping up fear around mobile viruses are largely looking after themselves. "We have companies making money out of scaring people, warning them about viruses," he said.

Industry leaders also blamed mobile operators for the growing concern over mobile viruses. "I have a sense that there's hysteria from the operators," said Ben Wood, research vice president for mobile devices at Gartner.

Geoff Preston, head of marketing technology at Symbian, agreed that operators are getting "agitated" about the prospect of mobile viruses and thus are furthering the hype around such potential problems.

Ultimately, these speakers were optimistic that the wireless industry could continue to aggressively push security in order to stem the possibility of viruses becoming a real problem in the mobile world. "The mobile world should not just follow the PC paradigm by being reactive. We should be proactive to prevent getting to the point the PC world is in today," said Preston.

Rather than worrying so much about potential mobile viruses, IT departments can do a better job of securing data that is stored on devices. A simple education process for mobile workers can help, said Chris Atwell, sales director at Extended Systems, a company that offers software that secures mobile access to corporate data. IT departments should emphasize that users should keep their devices locked and use an authentication process to access data. With such policies in place, workers will begin to recognize that the data stored or accessible on the phone has value and that may make them think twice about downloading suspicious files, for example, Atwell said.

Companies can also deploy platforms that allow them to remotely erase or kill a device that might be lost or stolen, thus helping to protect sensitive data from getting into the wrong hands.

Graubelle also stressed that mobile operators can implement device management platforms that can allow them to revoke applications that users may download, thus stemming the spread of potentially harmful viruses. While some operators are beginning to police such downloads, all have a responsibility to do so, he said.