Android invades the enterprise: How to handle it

IT pros worried about the iPhone will soon have a real problem: The malware-ridden, unpatched Android universe

Android-based devices account for nearly half (44 percent) of the smartphones in use, says research firm ComScore, followed by Apple's iPhone at 27 percent and Research in Motion's BlackBerry at 20 percent. But in the business world, the iPhone is the leader, accounting for 45 percent of smartphones in use, according to ComScore, followed by the BlackBerry at 32 percent and Android at 21 percent.

I believe that by July 2012 the Android percentage in business use will exceed that of the BlackBerry and could topple the iPhone for first place by 2013. Whatever the adoption rates, it's clear that Android will be a big percentage of the devices accessing corporate networks and data -- posing a huge risk for the business and a huge challenge for IT.

[ Learn about consumerization of IT in person March 4-6, 2012, at IDG's CITE conference in San Francisco. | Get expert advice about planning and implementing your BYOD strategy with InfoWorld's 29-page "Mobile and BYOD Deep Dive" PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]

For much of 2008 through 2010, IT worried about iPhones coming into the enterprise. But after Apple adopted Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) security policies in iOS 4 and provided API hooks for device management through third-party MDM tools, it became clear that for the vast majority of businesses, an iPhone was a safe device. Business adoption soared.

Why Android is a nightmare for IT
But Android is a very different story. It too is propelled by individuals asserting their technology preferences. But from a security and management point of view, Android is a dangerous operating system. Androids in business pose real security risks, worse even than what IT is used to dealing with for Windows. Here's why:

Android is a malware magnet. The Android Market is full of malware apps masquerading as legitimate apps, stealing information and running up huge SMS and phone bills on behalf of criminals. It's so easy to develop effective malware for Android that security firm McAfee reports all new mobile malware is for Android; the criminals aren't bothering with iOS, despite its larger market share, or with the longer-established BlackBerry OS. But don't confuse malware with viruses (apps that infect other devices and PCs) -- Android's risk here very small, despite the scaremongering carried out by Kapersky Lab, McAfee, Symantec, and other highly self-interested vendors.

Android is highly fragmented. The Android universe is unmanaged, with multiple versions of the OS in use. Smartphones sold today could run Android"Froyo" 2.2, "Gingerbread" 2.3, or -- starting this month -- "Ice Cream Sandwich" 4.0. Tablets could run Android 2.2 or 2.3 or "Honeycomb" 3.0, 3.1, or 3.2, with Android 4.0 added to the mix soon. Android is less a platform than a collection of one-off products. By contrast, Apple sells only one iOS version at any time, and RIM generally does the same with BlackBerry OS.

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