North America trailing in mobile tech security

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North American companies are far behind their European and Asian counterparts when it comes to protecting mobile data according to a recently released global survey by wireless solutions provider Symantec Corporation based in Cupertino, Calif.

The survey was conducted by Symantec’s Economist Intelligence Unit. Based on interviews with more than 240 execs, it found that fear of security breaches and virus attacks have kept at least 60 per cent of companies polled from deploying wireless and remote computing devices in their businesses.

In North America, only 36 per cent of companies polled said they used security software to protect mobile data compared with 55 percent in Western Europe and 44 per cent in the Asia Pacific Region.

“While most enterprises are aware of the risk introduced by mobility, they continue to lack security measures and policies required to protect themselves from potential threats,” said Paul Miller, director of mobile and wireless solutions, Symantec.

Eighty-two per cent of businesses surveyed said virus attacks on a mobile network would cause the same or even greater harm than similar attacks on a PC network.

However, only 26 per cent had actually assessed security risks associated with smart phones. On the other hand, more than 81 per cent of the businesses polled carried out security assessments for laptops.

Despite widespread use of cell phones, personal digital assistants and other mobile tools, only nine per cent of the companies have a comprehensive security set-up covering these devices. Around 10 per cent have no mobile security whatsoever, while 39 per cent are granting mobile device access to corporate networks on ad hoc basis. Another 39 per cent are in the process of integrating mobile devices into their existing fixed network security platform.

Lack of mobile security in many companies is linked to lack of knowledge among users, says one Canadian analyst. “A lot of users know they need security [tools], but don’t know how to take that to the next level and actually deploy them,” said Michelle Warren, mobile computing analyst at Evans Research Corp. in Toronto. “Security vendors need to educate businesses about the risks and possible solutions.”

As for the survey showing North America behind the rest of the world in mobile security, one industry analyst believes this could be attributed to a difference in technological cultures.

“We are more of a PC-based culture, while Europe and Asia are heavily into wireless technology,” said Eddie Chan, research analyst for mobile and personal computing at the Toronto-based consulting firm IDC Canada.

Chan said mobile device penetration is greater in other countries, so they experience greater attacks and are more vigilant.

He said Europe and Asia use more consumer-oriented mobile platforms such as the Symbian mobile operating system (OS), while North America uses mainly the Blackberry and Palm OS. “These are geared towards enterprise users and employ built-in safeguards.”

Chan and Warren predict virus attacks on wireless devices in North America will rise as the number of users grows.

“Towards the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007 we will see greater deployment of wireless technology in businesses,” said Warren. “At that time you will see the numbers changing with regard to security awareness as well.”

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