By Mark Henricks
For many CIOs, the smartphone represents a personal blessing and a professional curse. A blessing because it allows IT professionals to get more done. A curse because the large and growing presence of highly connected, high-powered and feature-laden smartphones brings with it a career’s worth of questions and concerns about security, support and overall IT strategy.
In a study of financial firms, virtually all -- 99 percent -- were found to support at least one mobile operating system. Perhaps more tellingly, while 65 percent supported a single mobile OS, 16 percent supported two, 8 percent three and 10 percent four or more. This finding is one of several from the study, highlighting the fact that mobile devices present one of the most vexing challenges facing CIOs today.
To gather data for the study, Forrester Research polled executives at 132 financial services and insurance companies in North America and Europe during the first quarter of 2010. The study was commissioned by Fiberlink, a supplier of services for connecting, managing and securing mobile devices and laptops.
Forrester’s main conclusion was that most firms are eventually going to permit individuals to choose their own mobile device platform. And to permit that, firms are going to embrace multiple mobile OSes. However, Forrester said IT professionals are encouraging end users to self-support by creating collaboration portals or wikis that enable early adopters to show latecomers the way.
Currently, many IT and telecom managers offer different levels of service and support for different devices, found the survey. Thirty percent provided no mobile device support, 20 percent prohibited use of personal mobile devices, 14 percent limited support to certain types, 14 percent limited support to all types and 13 percent fully supported certain types. Just 8 percent fully supported all types, and 2 percent had no official policy.
Data security, threat management and compliance were the top security priorities. Data security was rated a critical issue by 43 percent and a high priority by 47 percent. Managing vulnerabilities and threats was critical for 33 percent and a high priority for 57 percent. Regulatory compliance -- a special concern for financial services firms -- came in at 49 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Also on the list were business continuity, at 36 percent and 49 percent, and cutting costs, at 34 percent and 45 percent.
When it came to specific threats, malware was the biggest issue, according to another recent Forrester survey. When asked how concerned they were about various threats, 73 percent of the 56 North American financial services and insurance firms surveyed said they were very worried about malware. Hackers were cited as a prime concern by 66 percent, and theft and loss by 64 percent.
Forrester suggested that handling these challenges called for a set of procedures including instituting strong password policies, employing full disk encryption, providing for remote lock and wipe, and providing asset and activity visibility and management, including application control, across all mobile devices. Ninety-seven percent of executives said they had or would within two years deploy password policies for smartphones. Ninety-eight percent said the same about backup and restore. Ninety-five percent had deployed or were deploying application management, while 94 percent had full disk encryption.
The resulting picture is of a set of CIOs -- at least within the compliance-sensitive financial services industry -- who are recognizing the security challenges presented by smartphones, and have taken or are taking steps to manage those challenges. They aren’t, according to the study, as enthusiastic about complicating matters by expanding the variety and scope of their mobile device support offerings. But according to Forrester, there isn’t much change of avoiding traveling that particular road.
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