will smartphones need retina scans before you use?

Your mobile device is becoming the central hub for much of your existence. As it does security is becoming a prime consideration for any user, particularly in the enterprise.

After all, it isn't just about protecting data on the device, but data held online on intranets and the like repositories these mobile gadgets are equipped and pre-configured to access.

Today's smartphones and tablets are becoming increasingly secure, from PIN-based access to the device to security perimeters surrounding your online services to the capacity for Remote Wipe and device tracking. Despite this the threat remains real, after all, 83% of people would try to access corporate data held on a lost iPhone, a recent Symantec simulation showed.

people like to see

In the test, the security company loaded 50 smartphones with phony personal and corporate data (along with monitoring tools) and deliberately mislaid them to see how likely a breach might be in a real world situation. The results confirm the risk.

The commitment to security is clear. Even Apple seems to be taking this stuff seriously. The company hasn't been a traditional target for attacks, but this is changing as its iPhone and iPad enter the enterprise under the BYOD trend. The result? Apple will for the first time attend the upcoming Black Hat security conference.

Security seems set to move beyond simple PIN codes. Security vendors are already offering anti-malware packages and endpoint security enhancements, including means by which to separate business from personal apps to prevent data leakage.

biometric security

Apple continues to develop security features for its iOS devices. Recent software patents suggest the company's Find My iPhone will be able to protect files nominated by the user in the event the device is lost/stolen; and also proposes secure scrambling of data held on the device in preference to completely wiping that information in the event a user thinks they may retrieve their smartphone but seeks to protect the data in the interim.

Google's Android software is also seeing security enhancements, but the challenge with these is that not every Android device will be able to run them, such is the nature of the fragmented ecosystem of that platform.

Technologists are exploring security implementations including thumbprint and retina scanning by devices. These solutions may be way down the line, but they are becoming more possible.

impossible possibles

Most recently, scientists at MIT created software called Eulerian Video Magnification. This complex set of software algorithms can amplify elements of a video and reveal elements undetectable to the human eye: these can include a person's pulse/heartbeat, or, presumably, accurate identification of a user's retina.

MIT researchers are focusing on the use of this tech in medical imaging, but it isn't hard to imagine this software -- set for release to others later in the summer -- could be deployed in such a way as to drive future security enhancements, by making detection of specific users more accurate.

The technology could perhaps be adopted by Apple, which patented biometric security protocols for the iPhone in 2009. These solutions could include thumbprint scanning, retina scanning or voice recognition systems.

Biometric security has its limits. For example, in 2005 Malaysian car thieves removed the finger of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class owner when attempting to steal the car, which was protected by a fingerprint scanner. To protect against such outcomes the most likely route for deployment of biometric security solutions on mobile devices probably favours use of multiple protections.

"For mobile applications with higher security requirements, it may be a good idea to use multiple biometric-based security technology for future mobile devices to achieve mobile security at different levels," warned San Jose State University researchers in 2007.


crédit photo : © Andrea Danti - Fotolia.com

Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.