What is a smartphone? They are pocket-sized computers with all the abilities of a computer and certainly more power than the desktop PCs of only a few years ago. Indeed the smartphone is in many situations more usable than its full-sized equivalent, even if that equivalent is a laptop or netbook. The main challenge of the smartphone is keeping it and its contents safe.
Tools are available to encrypt data stored on a smartphone but to use a smartphone typically only requires a 4 or 6 digit PIN code to unlock (if a PIN is set at all!) which is not, in my opinion, good enough to protect a company's (or a person’s) data.
Other challenges include the connecting of personal devices to an enterprise network – does your organisation understand the potential risks involved and the additional support costs that could be incurred arising from having to support multiple devices, do these issues and associated costs outweigh the savings from not having to buy staff equipment?
Security Think Tank: Challenges and opportunities of smartphone security policy
The opportunities of course include staff being able to access e-mail and perhaps other services from many locations, but here I have to say that 3G mobile support is not quite as good as it is cracked up to be and if you live in rural Suffolk, as I do (or indeed many rural locations), mobile phone signals can be poor to non-existent, which may put a dampener on the use of mobile devices in some organisation. Having said that, mobile phone signals in some buildings in central London are not that good either, (a few feet of good stone tends to weaken the signals).
So to summarise, a smartphone can give staff the freedom to get e-mail easily when out of the office without having to tote a heavy laptop, but the challenges are to keep the device and any data on it secure and to understand the risks and potential limitations that these devices offer.
Remember, a £10 mobile phone will take/make calls and send/receive SMS messages just as well from a poor signal location as a £400 smartphone, but the smartphone's internet capabilities won’t be unlocked unless you are in a largish town/city with good 3G or Wi-Fi connectivity, and a smartphone will be a target for thieves whereas the cheap mobile generally won’t be.
Peter Wenham is a committee member of the BCS Security Forum strategic panel and director of information assurance consultancy Trusted Management