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Symantec making waves in mobile device security

Symantec's pairing with Nokia and purchase of Sygate indicates that the security company is continuing to look for ways to protect devices and networks.

A recent partnership that brings Symantec security to Nokia smartphones isn't the only thing the information protection giant has in its arsenal.

As the need for mobile device-based security grows and enters unknown territory, the folks at Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec Corp. are working on several fronts to make sure information from on-the-go workers is protected.

Though she would share few specifics, Sarah Hicks, Symantec's vice president for mobile and wireless solutions, said this week that the Symantec-Nokia pairing is just the start.

Hicks said Symantec is in discussion with several other major mobile device manufacturers about security, and is also talking to carriers.

The questions that remain, Hicks said, are: "How do end users acquire security? Is it the carrier or the vendor providing it?"

Recently, Symantec announced a new collaboration with Nokia that will put Symantec Mobile Security into Nokia's Series 60 and Symbian operating system-based mobile devices. The deal is an extension of the companies' two-year partnership.

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The smartphones will be pre-loaded with security features that include antivirus software and a firewall that intercepts and examines inbound and outbound messages. The firewall also blocks suspicious incoming and outgoing connection attempts from accessing the network.

Symantec's Auto-Protect feature runs continuously to sniff out malicious code and attacks. It examines Short Message Service (SMS), Enhanced Messaging Service (EMS), Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), HTTP and e-mails. It can also manually scan applications.

The relationship gives the Series 60 phones device-direct live updates, which eliminate the need to sync the device to a desktop, Hicks said.

The pairing with Nokia was announced just a week before Symantec acquired Sygate Technologies, which Hicks said will help users and companies ensure that the mobile devices logging onto a network are compliant with the companies' security policies. Hicks called that part of Symantec's "multi-tiered approach" to security.

"These devices go in and out of connected networks all the time," Hicks said. "These different types of connectivity make them more vulnerable."

In the past, the biggest threat to mobile devices was loss or theft. But Hicks said mobile users are now being victimized more and more by viruses and malware. And those threats will change and evolve as the number of workers accessing vital data from mobile devices grows over the next several years.

Some research has suggested the number of devices with open operating systems will skyrocket from roughly 50 million users now to about 150 million in 2008.

"This threat is just emerging," Hicks said. "We have only started to see a handful of threats. The concern is starting to affect more enterprise-oriented folks."

Hicks said cell phones and smartphones have become storage areas for personal information and other data, demanding a higher level of security. It's not uncommon to have personal e-mail, photos, instant messaging conversations, video and music all on one device alongside information accessed through a corporate network like sales contacts, price lists and work-related communications.

Because most devices run with open operating systems, they are susceptible to threats. And because most people have their devices "always on," Hicks said the risk level increases.

Many companies, Hicks said, are seeking ways to protect their mobile workforces now, before threats and risk levels spike.

"IT administrators and some individuals are being proactive to put themselves in a position where they don't have to be reactive," she said.

Hicks said she anticipates businesses will start to go directly to vendors for device security and avoid working with carriers because "typically, enterprises don't want to trust their security to a third party."

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