Mobile Predictions for 2012: Security, Payments, Windows Phone and More

CIO.com's Al Sacco gathers a handful of mobile and wireless predictions from industry experts on subjects like mobile malware, mobile payments and location-based services and offers his take on which predictions will come true--and which will fall through.

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Tue, December 13, 2011

CIO — Chances are, you've probably read a few 2012 technology predictions by now, or at least heard about some expected tech trends. The Web and blogosphere have certainly seen no shortage of such forward-looking posts; even CIO.com publisher IDG-Enterprise's President and CEO Michael Friedenberg offered up his two cents on what's to come in 2012.

To set this particular story apart from the pack, I gathered up a handful of insightful predictions from mobile experts at organizations including IEEE, Sybase 365, and Metia/Seattle, and then offered my take on which predictions will prove to be dead on, the ones that could pan out and the predictions that don't stand a chance, in my opinion.

1) Mobile Security and Smartphone Hacking in 2012

The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), pronounced "eye-triple-E," claims to be the "world's largest professional association for the advancement of technology." If that's so, than the smart folks at IEEE should be able to offer some accurate mobile predictions for 2012, right? The IEEE's main warning is that smartphone hacking will soar in 2012, mostly via free, rogue smartphone applications.


BlackBerry Torch 9800 with Padlock (Image Credit: Brian Sacco)
BlackBerry Torch 9800 with Padlock (Image Credit: Brian Sacco)

IEEE Fellow and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) computer scientist Jeffrey Voas, claims to have already uncovered malware in more than 2,000 currently available free apps. And Voas says roughly 1 in 100 free apps in 2012 will visibly contain malware--and even more malware will be beyond immediate detection.

"The issue with free apps is that you're paying a price you don't know about," Voas says. "Smartphone users need to remember that free isn't necessarily free."

IEEE Senior Member and Head of the School of Computing and Intelligence Kevin Curran thinks businesses, particularly C-level execs, will be the main mobile malware victims in 2012. .

"With more people using the same phone for business and personal reasons, the upsurge in smartphone hacking presents a real issue for businesses as well as consumers," Curran says. "A company can have all appropriate firewalls in place, but it takes just one employee to download malware onto their phone. In fact, with more senior employees using phones for work, it is likely to be C-suite executives exposing businesses to vulnerabilities."

Sacco's Take:

I agree wholeheartedly that 2012 will really mark the start of the mobile malware age, in which smartphones and tablets will be targeted to the same degree as desktop PCs. I think a number of high profile malware-related incidents will help to raise awareness of the need for vigilance among smartphone and tablets users, and the enterprise IT managers who maintain such devices. And I think Google's Android OS will fall victim to the majority of these malware incidents because Android security isn't exactly "strong" in general, Android market share is growing so rapidly, and many of Android users choose to "root" or "jailbreak" their devices, which further opens them up to attacks.

I'm not sure about Voas' specific malware numbers, but it does certainly make sense that much of the upcoming malware will come in the form of free apps, because many more users will likely download free applications so the potential benefits to the Bad Guys are more significant.

It's worth noting, however, that malware can definitely be packaged along with paid, seemingly legitimate applications, as well, so users should be skeptical of installing any applications from sources they don't know or trust, whether they're free or not, and especially if the promised functionality seems too good to be true.

As for businesses taking the biggest hit due to an increase in malware, this could be the case simply because businesses tend to use and transfer more potentially valuable information than the average consumer--such as trade secrets.

But many more consumer smartphone users exist than corporate smartphone users, in general. So I would expect more consumers to fall victim to malware than business users. However, the potential for serious damage is larger for a corporate user with sensitive information stored on a mobile device than a consumer storing just music, movies and contacts.

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