SDN architectures

Battling Malware & Madware

NEW YORK -- Mobile Network Security Strategies -- As bad as malware may be, it's not the only growing security problem with mobile networks today. There's also "madware."

Speaking at Light Reading's mobile network security conference on Thursday, Brian Witten, senior director of engineering for Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC), explained that madware consists of mobile device apps that "do what customers don't like," such as tap into personal information. In a special presentation here, Witten estimated that about 40% of all mobile apps qualify as madware because they "touch and leak off personal information" from users' phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.

"It's a much bigger problem" than malware, Witten said. In contrast, he noted that the roughly 500,000 malicious apps in existence account for merely 7% of all mobile apps.

Further, Witten said, "the majority of apps out there" track their users' location and/or behavior. As in the case of malware, Android apps account for the bulk of the madware.

That's not to say, though, that malware isn't a serious, growing problem, Witten stressed. Presenting more stats from Symantec surveys, he said "the volume of malware" grew fourfold between June 2011 and June 2012, while "the volume of malware families" grew fivefold over the same period. Moreover, he said, the number of malware samples multiplied six times between June 2012 and June 2013.

"That curve is actually growing steeply," he said, displaying charts with nearly hockey-stick-like lines pointing up.

Witten also highlighted the security risks of lost phones. In a recent experiment called Project Honeystick, Symantec researchers deliberately left 50 cell phones in various locations throughout several large US cities -- Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Washington. What they found after a week is that all of the lost phones were found, but half of the finders made no attempt to return the devices to their owners.

What was even more troubling, Witten said, is that 96% of the phones were accessed for some kind of information and 89% of them were accessed for personal data. In addition, the phone finders accessed 83% of the devices for corporate information. "And these were just average people, " he said, "not determined attackers."

Fortunately, Witten said, three recent developments -- data center virtualization, network function virtualization (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN), and mobile device virtualization -- offer much promise for improved mobile network security.

Citing stats from Forrester Research Inc. , Witten said "the majority of data center servers are already virtualized," with the proportion of virtualized centers expected to climb from 52% last year to 75% in 2014. He predicted that this virtualization process "will make it a lot easier to deploy security at scale" through the use of virtual security appliances.

Turning to NFV and SDN, Witten argued that virtual security appliances offer numerous advantages over physical security appliances. He ticked off five of those advantages, contending that virtual appliances are much quicker to deploy, less costly to deploy, need no physical cabling, can scale much bettering, and are much easier to either upgrade or replace entirely than their physical counterparts.

Witten also emphasized that the virtualization of mobile devices will make a big difference. He ran through several container models for improved security, including hypervisors, SDK-based solutions, trust and execute environment (TEE), and wraps. In particular, he sees promise in wraps, which wrap security features around apps without changing any of the app code.

"We have the technical ability to wrap an app," he said, noting that it can be done for both Android and iOS apps. He said Symantec is now pursuing agreements with app vendors for permission to wrap their apps.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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