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Gartner: Be cautious about letting new iPhones into your company

Limit access to corporate apps because of security issues, consulting firm says

June 11, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The enhanced security features built into Apple Inc.'s new iPhone 3G will enable the devices to be connected more securely into corporate networks. But that doesn't mean they should immediately be given the same kind of broad access to internal applications that PCs typically enjoy, according to Gartner Inc. analysts.

For now, at least, the iPhone remains largely untested from a corporate security standpoint, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said after Apple's iPhone 3G announcement this week. He added that although Apple's upgraded handheld may be capable of doing many of the same things that a laptop or desktop PC can do, it has yet to be proven that the iPhone can be locked down in the same manner as PCs can be.

As a result, it may be better for companies to consider providing iPhone access to only a limited set of applications, such as Exchange and Apple's Mail e-mail client, instead of opening up their entire networks to the device, Dulaney said.

"Much about being secure is being consistent," Dulaney said. "If you have two platforms, a PC and a handheld — one of which has years of improvements in security and is very mature, against one that is barely a year old — you are only going to be as secure as the second piece of hardware."

When Apple unveiled the iPhone 3G, which will run the second-generation iPhone 2.0 software that the vendor announced in March, CEO Steve Jobs and other executives touted several features that they claimed will make the new device suitable for enterprise uses.

Among the most significant of the enhancements is support for Cisco Systems Inc.'s IPsec virtual private networking technology, which will let iPhones connect securely to enterprise networks and communicate using IP-based encryption. The new hardware/software tandem also supports wireless network services via the enterprise version of the Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 protocol, featuring 802.1X-based authentication. In addition, it offers a remote-wipe capability for erasing data if a device is lost or stolen. Those functions are all considered crucial for corporate users.

"Cisco IPsec VPN gets you most of the corporate world," said Glenn Edens, an independent mobile device consultant. Provisioning and configuration management capabilities are also "very well done" on the iPhone 3G, Eden said via e-mail. "It is probably good enough for Department of Defense applications," he added, pointing to the fact that the U.S. military was one of the beta users showcased during the iPhone 3G launch at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

At the product announcement, Bob Borchers, senior director of Apple's iPhone business line, claimed that the security capabilities in the new iPhone will be sufficient for companies looking to adopt the device internally. For example, he said that the iPhone 3G and iPhone 2.0 technologies have managed to "attract the interest of eight of the 10 biggest banks in the U.S."

John Pescatore, another Gartner analyst, acknowledged Apple's focus on enhancing the security features and the policy management and enforcement capabilities in the new iPhone. Apple has narrowed much of the security gap that existed previously between its handheld and rival products, Pescatore said. But he added that the iPhone still doesn't offer quite the same level of security as either BlackBerry or Windows Mobile devices do.

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