PDAs: now it's anytime, anyplace, anywhere

The PDA is cheap, mobile and easy to lose, which raises support and security issues, writes Julia Vowler

The PDA is cheap, mobile and easy to lose, which raises support and security issues, writes Julia Vowler

Back in the good old days the only way a user could get any kind of access to the corporate computer was via a box full of punched cards. Now users can get at corporate computers not just from their own desks, but from outside the office itself. Mobile computing is here to stay.

But, says Jamie Kaminski of research group Xephon, this raises all sorts of IT management issues for companies.

"The support implications for personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other mobile devices are substantial," he warns, "because the devices have different hardware and software architectures, limited local storage capacity, new applications, management requirements, communications bandwidth demands and security issues".

What impact does that have for a security and support?

Security, says Kaminski, "is going to be a major area of concern. Many enterprises still do not associate hacking and virus attacks with mobile telephony."

But for all that, "malicious attacks on mobile devices will increase".

Kaminski cites the first confirmed example of such an attack in Spain earlier this year. Although the hacker simply sent an e-mail "the potential", he warns, "is enormous".

Of course, PDAs are very small and, therefore, very losable or vulnerable to theft - and the information they contain goes with them.

"User identification and data encryption are obvious methodologies for data protection," urges Kaminski.

"Strong centralised standards and controls should be enforced. Informal synchronisation is not viable for an enterprise environment," he warns.

Support issues also arrive from the current wide variety of architectures for mobile devices. The range of devices is increasing as is the number of operating systems.

"This is going to lead to compatibility problems unless centralised control is enforced," says Kaminski, and warns that the low cost of PDAs means that users can go off and buy them themselves, yet still use them for business. "This can cause management complexities," he observes.

Helpdesk burden

With users all over the company wanting and using mobile devices, the burden on the helpdesk will inevitably increase. Users may find that the support they need won't be forthcoming.

"Currently, very few technical support staff have the required skill set for mobile support," says Kaminski. "Training and intuitive hiring are essential.

"Mobile computing will not go away and will only become more pervasive as the technology enabling it matures. Getting to grips with the management and support issues at an early stage will ease the way forward."

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