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Norton: Mobile threat 'immature'

But you still need mobile security software...

Norton's Con Mallon today told PC Advisor that in the mobile space: "Threats are still relatively immature, in both sophistication and quantity."

However, Mallon said that mobile was a "fast evolving space" with new security developments appearing on a weekly basis. He added that the challenge for security companies such as Norton was to educate users that they required mobile security software, while developing relevant products. Developing mobile software security tools is not, as Mallon said, "a simple cut and paste from Windows".

The question of whether security software is required for tablets and mobile phones is a thorny one. All major security vendors now produce mobile products, and the number of live threats in the Android ecosystem jumped 472 percent between June and November 2011. But even in buggy old Android, the actual number of threats is still pitifully low, and recent research from AV-Test showed that free Android AV simply doesn't work, and the pay-for ones tested weren't much better. That's just Android, but iOS is so locked down it is barely conceivable that a rogue app could make it on there.

Where there is transaction, however, there is theft (where there's brass there's muck, if you like). And although traditional antivirus is much less important in the mobile space, wherever you surf the web you expose yourself to risk. And the risk these days, Mallon says, is that criminals harvest your personal data.

Mallon says that Norton's long term intention is to "secure the user as an individual, not a single device". The way we are using technology has developed from a time when it was enough simply to prevent malware attaching itself to a Windows PC, he said. "The perimeter we have to control is wider," he added.

This makes sense. All cybercrime has a financial motivation, and simply knowing an individual's details is worth a decent amount of money to businesses both legitimate and criminal. Where once a malware writer might have attacked your Windows PC or laptop with spyware in a drive-by from the internet, now they could just encourage you to download a 'legitimate' app from the Android Market, and ask for more data from your phone than is strictly necessary (if you've ever had a photography app that required access to your contacts, that's what was happening).

So Mallon envisages a future role for security vendors such as Norton in providing nuanced, independent information on the legitimacy of apps as they download. This information both sourced proactively in Norton's labs, and crowd-sourced from Norton's huge pool of users.

As has already been seen with Norton's Mobile Security and Norton Tablet Security products, such tools will also provide anti-theft and data-protection capabilities. Mallon envisages Norton providing protected surfing for mobile users, too - you can after all be tricked into giving up your details, regardless of what device you use to surf the web. And Mallon thinks that providing user restriction policies accross multiple devices will become a role for security software - helping families to keep their children safe online, for instance, even when they are surfing from a phone.

So Norton's Mallon is confident that security software is required for mobile users, and will become increasingly important. (I agree with him on the latter point, at least, although I'm not convinced everyone needs to rush out and buy such software just yet.) No matter, with Norton One the company has already started rolling out a one licence fits all product for desktop and mobile security, and Mallon says that in the future Norton users will purchase one product that will entitle them to use Norton software to protect all their devices, mobile and otherwise. See also: Norton plans iPhone, iPad security software.


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