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Security Manager's Journal: Security flaw shakes faith in Apple mobile devices

And without remote management, getting patches onto devices scattered throughout the organization is hit or miss

By J.F. Rice
March 6, 2014 09:31 AM ET

Computerworld - Last July, I wrote about serious security vulnerabilities on the Android operating system for mobile devices, which could compromise data as well as the devices themselves, and how this led me to believe Apple phones and tablets were a better choice because they did not have the same underlying security flaws. Sadly, as with all "Apple is more secure" claims, that has proved false.

Last week, Apple released an update known as iOS Version 7.0.6 to repair a security flaw in the SSL encryption implementation that could allow encrypted traffic to be intercepted and decrypted, thus compromising private data. My company's private data, to be precise.

Updates such as this present several challenges to organizations like mine. First, we now need to have a process in place for getting critical security patches on phones, as we do for computers. And that's not easy to do. For computers, we have software that manages patches and can deploy an emergency security fix very quickly, with minimal intervention by system administrators or end users. On phones, we don't.

Remember the bad old days, before patching software existed for PCs? Desktop technicians had to go around to all the computers in an organization and manually patch them, or turn on automatic updates and rely on the end users to allow the installations. That was a long time ago. But with phones and tablets, that's exactly where we are today. We don't have the ability to push out patches. For the iOS 7.0.6 update, I had to send email to everyone with an Apple device imploring them to run the update as soon as possible. I then had to line up a technician to contact the less technically savvy users and walk them through the process. This was time-consuming and inefficient.

The second challenge is with our mobile device management (MDM) software. This software allows me to manage security settings on our mobile devices, but as I discovered with the 7.0.6 update, it can only enforce, not deploy. This means I can use my MDM software to require Apple iOS Version 7.0.6 and above on any Apple device that tries to connect to our network, but I can't use MDM to perform the installation. Inconveniently, this results in noncompliant users getting kicked off the network until they run the update. I don't think too much of a process that works by ticking off users.

Third, this security flaw has put into question the entire security of Apple phones and tablets. Where there's one flaw, there are bound to be more. And I can no longer believe that my company's data is always safe on these devices. We've patched this one hole, for now. What other holes are lurking, yet to be discovered?

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