LIKE KIDS COMING in from the playground, digital devices entering your schools carry a lot of germs. Increasingly, today's students carry cell phones and so-called "smart phones" with e-mail and instant-messaging capabilities. These devices are often infected with viruses and worms that are looking to leap onto your IT systems.
More than 100 viruses now target smart phones running mobile operating systems from Microsoft Corp. (www.microsoft.com), PalmSource Inc. (www.palmsource.com), and Research in Motion Ltd. (www.rim.com), to name a few. Imagine if those viruses could infiltrate a WiFi connection and crawl from students' smart phones onto your school's servers, desktops, and notebooks, contaminating your district's most critical data.
Now stop imagining. Hackers have been working overtime to make this nightmare scenario a reality. Consider the Cabir worm, which targets mobile phones running Symbian OS (www.symbian.com) and Nokia's Series 60 (www.nokia.com) user interface. Once triggered, Cabir uses Bluetooth (www. bluetooth.com) to send itself from one phone to another. Another worm, Commwarrior, uses both Bluetooth and MMS (multimedia messaging service; www.mobilemms.com), a popular messaging standard for smart phones and cell phones. Though neither Cabir nor Commwarrior inflicts terrible harm on mobile devices, count on hackers to continue to update and evolve mobile worms, creating some that may eventually carry payloads that try to steal personal information.
Time to panic? Not quite. Several innovative software companies are striving to secure mobile devices before they turn on their masters. Their efforts are paying rapid dividends.
Keep a close eye on Bluefire Security Technologies (www.bluefiresecurity.com), a privately held firm in Baltimore, MD, that has developed an integrated security suite for smart phones. Bluefire's mobile security suite offers authentication, encryption, integrity monitoring, a firewall. VPN (virtual private network), and centralized management.
This may sound like overkill, but consider how much confidential business is transacted on today's mobile devices. From your school principals to your guidance counselors, your workforce will increasingly run e-mail and other mission-critical applications on mobile devices. In some cases, the data might ultimately include student Social Security numbers, test scores, and other personal information.
Alas, more than 80 percent of mobile devices lack enterprise security capabilities, according to Connecticut-based technology research firm Gartner Inc. (www.gartner.com). Now consider that Gartner estimates roughly 880 million mobile phones were said in 2005. Lump those two statistics together, and the result is a very enticing, poorly secured target for hackers.
The 4-1-1 on WiFi
Voice-over-IP (VoIP) technology further complicates matters. Over the next few months, Cisco Systems Inc. (www.cisco. com) and other major networking firms will continue to grow the market for multifunction smart phones that communicate with cell and WiFi networks. …