News Stay informed about the latest enterprise technology news and product updates.

Google's Android platform could complicate security

Google's Android platform, still months away from deployment, could raise a host of security concerns.

Before it makes its first call or pings its first email, Google's Android platform is already turning heads -- and raising security issues.

Computer security firm F-Secure wrote in its blog that Google's openness with the platform could be its undoing.

"If unsigned and unknown applications written by anyone have full access to phone features, we smell trouble," wrote Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer at F-Secure.

Hyppönen noted one statement in particular from Android's homepage: "…an application could call upon any of the phone's core functionality such as making calls, sending text messages, or using the camera...."

Google has created a page detailing Android security measures, which are largely install-time and permissions based, but the true test will not occur until the first Android phones hit the market and reach a critical mass.

Whether the Gphone or Android platform will make a big splash in the market is not a sure thing, experts said. Google is an outside player trying to overturn the current models of entrenched mobility giants on their home turf.

Francis Sideco, senior analyst at iSuppli, said any estimates of Android's future market share at this point are pure conjecture.

"Until we know what products come out of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) and where those companies are targeting initially, we're not even going to be able to guess," he said.

Sideco said the release of the iPhone opened up a window for Google to convince carriers and manufacturers to come to the table and build a competitor. If the platform is successful, he said, it could provide "a potential opportunity to build an ecosystem or development environment they can use to address the iPhone challenge."

Sideco added that the current OHA members appear likely to create a consumer-oriented phone rather than an enterprise- or executive-oriented device. Even if that holds true, enterprise IT departments are still likely to find themselves dealing with the devices soon after their launch.

"For more and more of these employees, there's a blurring of the lines between their business life and their personal life," Sideco said. "So if the Android platform helps that melding be more efficient ... where you can do both personal and enterprise type of work, that could really drive adoption."

Several factors will play into Android's potential enterprise adoption. One will be how easy it is to integrate with current policies. Sideco said smartphones were much more welcome into the corporate sphere once remote deletion capabilities allowed IT departments to wipe lost phones of confidential or proprietary data.

More on mobile security
Learn how to set goals for mobile security

Read what our survey learned about mobile security and policy
Another factor that could affect Google's smartphone success, Sideco said, is how "technology forward" the individual companies are.

"How much confidence do they have in their IT department to secure data in that device?" he said. He added that Android phones might avoid the stigma iPhones face in corporate IT departments if models are designed specifically for the enterprise markets rather than with the strong consumer focus the iPhone had, with its main features being music, video, Web browsing and other mobile entertainment functions.

If and when Android phones develop a sizable market, security issues will probably become a major focus. To help ease these concerns, Android developers might do well to follow familiar paradigms when possible.

Marc Kirstein, president of MultiMedia Intelligence, said VPNs could go a long way in comforting uneasy IT departments.

"The IT department is going to be in effect quarantining the Gphone," he said.

Rick Sizemore, chief strategy officer with MultiMedia Intelligence, said concerns with the Android platform are legitimate, but not unprecedented.

"Any new platform that is different from what [IT departments] are used to [is met with caution]," Sizemore said. "They were leery when BlackBerrys came out. There were a few problems; but overall, they learned to adapt to it."

The bottom line, Sizemore said, is that IT departments are paranoid for a reason: They are chronically under-funded and under-manned, and when the network goes down or glitches occur, they come under a microscope.

Sizemore agrees with Sideco that the Android could definitely work its way into the enterprise as personal users bring it in and intermix personal and professional lives. Problems could really occur if the phones try to access those corporate networks -- for example, by logging into a wireless network.

Regardless of the concerns, Kirstein said, Gphone and the Android platform will probably offer a few "killer applications," and Android-based phones could be the next big thing in both personal and professional circles when they are first released in the second half of 2008.

Dig Deeper on Enterprise mobile security

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.