The Truth About Mobile Computing

A couple of weeks ago I was in a sports bar in Frankfurt, Germany watching the Chicago Bears game and texting back and forth with my son in Chicago about the game. By today’s standards, this is not such a big deal – yet you can’t help but think, “This is pretty cool”.

Yes, a lot is really “cool” about mobile devices. We all like getting our email at anytime and anyplace in the world. It’s handy to look up directions, prices, “fun facts”, LinkedIn® and more. You can look up just about anything yet “Mobile Computing” is really still in the beginning stages of development. As with any new thing, there is a lot to learn and much to keep up with.

Mobile computing covers a vast array of technology: communication; mobile hardware and mobile software. For communication you may use carrier based wireless networks. Devices include a computer, PDA, smartphone, tablet computer, etc. For software you will use any number of communication software tools reliant on what you are connecting to. The concept is to gain computer power when not at the location of the main server.

Though nice, mobile computing is not without issue. Yes, I check Facebook® and LinkedIn® from my phone, but I find it cumbersome and limit the time I spend on those mediums using a phone app. Even when using a specially designed “mobile app” screens tend to be small and the phone buttons are not the most convenient to work with. You are also limited in what you can do. Thus, on the rise you have “the tablets”. The problem with tablets is price and not everyone wants to carry something as large around. Suddenly one feels like sitting at the table with The Three Bears tasting porridge where one is too hot and one is too cold. Of course Amazon® thinks they may have the answer by introducing their Kindle Fire®. Priced at $199 and a size in between a smartphone and an iPad®, could this be the mobile savior?

Everyone knows that smartphone sales are exceeding PC sales. Even with bandwidth challenges for internet access, transmission issues and the small screens and keyboards, people want to connect with these devices. When dealing with more robust applications, the tablets are gaining popularity. The real question is how do companies address this type of technology? Corporate data is suddenly being made available off-site and unprotected.

Mobile devices present a significant amount of serious threats to corporate data. It goes several layers deeper than trusting the recipient of the information. As mobile devices increase in popularity, so do the risks.

One major concern is mobile malware. Yes viruses, worms, software that steals data, spyware, and other malware exist in the mobile environment. The chance of a serious attack is relatively low today but this is growing as the concept of mobile computing expands. It is important to protect mobile devices from malware.

Carrier-based wireless connections offer an entirely different set of concerns. Sensitive data can be intercepted if not protected properly. Another danger is that corporate logins and other sensitive information are often stored on a mobile device which can easily be left behind in a taxi or other public area. This could open the door to unauthorized access to corporate data.

Another item not often thought about is the legal side of unlicensed and/or unauthorized applications. If a mobile device is used for corporate applications who is responsible if the user loads unlicensed applications on to that device? Further, what dangers might these “unauthorized applications” present to corporate data that may be unprotected?

It is very important for companies to devise a Mobile Device Policy if employees will be using mobile devices to conduct corporate business. Such a policy needs to be a part of any mobile computing strategy. It should be a written document similar to any other confidentiality or policy agreement. It should talk about acceptable user usage and responsibility. It needs to specify that the user understands that data being accessed is sensitive and that proper precautions must be taken when using the mobile device. Likewise, companies need to ensure that the appropriate security has been put into place on the device and on the network.

Mobile computing is here and it is not going away. It opens up an entirely new scope of possibilities for doing business. However, it is important to understand how it works and what some of the challenges are in order to ensure safe and productive use.