Group test: Portable device security


Cell phones, PDAs, smartphones and BlackBerry devices all have one thing in common: They do far more than make phone calls. We live in a connected world today and our personal communication devices are our lifelines.

We reviewed endpoint security tools in April. In that review, we talked about the risks and challenges with securing mobile devices and media. Your corporate or personal information resides on mobile PCs, CD ROMS, USB drives. There is open access to your data over wireless networks and/or Bluetooth. The issues we summarized then are the same we face in this month's review. Only now, we add on top of that, a device such as your cell phone that you take to your children's events, family picnics, the bar after work, leave lying around on your desk, or leave sitting in your car to charge. The same device may have additional wireless access via Bluetooth and standard 802.11 capabilities, and in most cases, will be in an always-on state.

There is no doubt that the benefits of having email, data exchange, data storage and various network access options available on our portable devices provides substantial productivity, efficiency and customer service advantages. To be effective, portable device security must balance the security risk with the productivity benefits. The right solution must also address the IT challenges we all face today, mainly overburdened and understaffed IT departments. The right solution should deploy easily, provide centralized policy management, provide centralized reporting and tunable alerting.

In this month's issue, we review portable device security solutions. Products in this Group Test deal with not only a collapsing perimeter, but also consumer-owned and consumer-controlled devices being used to get at corporate resources. The criteria for the submissions this month focused on solutions that were centrally managed and intended for an enterprise environment, provided some form of encryption, and included some form of security for portable devices, such as a PDA, smartphone, iPhone or BlackBerry. As always, we were interested in the tool's ability to provide management, reporting and event notification/alerting.

The products reviewed covered several security categories, including firewall, anti-virus, encryption and device lock-out. Some products treated the portable device like any other USB or Bluetooth-attached device, and managed security at the port level. Others provided various levels of security for the actual portable device.

The solutions we reviewed varied greatly in their support for various mobile platforms and depth of offering. Some of the tools focused on providing a lockout feature for the mobile device, others provided the encryption for either the communications with the device and/or the data stored on the device, while still others delivered a solution that included firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware, software update management, theft protection, remote wipe, and various encryption and lockout features.

We did find a few solutions that provided a very comprehensive set of capabilities, while others focused on one area of protection, providing integration to other tools that delivered the rest. Some of the products installed as standalone applications on either a PC or server. Others were modules or part of an enterprise management solution. We focused a lot of our testing efforts on the server-side management, reporting and alerting, along with the product's ability to integrate with various directory structures for setup, agent/client deployments and management of the environment.

We were pleased with all the products we tested for this review. All the products were mature, installed easily and, in most cases, were easy to use.

Features and functionality varied across all the products reviewed. When choosing the right product for your personal or corporate use, it will be important to understand and document the needs you are trying to address before evaluating technologies to support those needs.

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