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What’s Missing in the Encryption, Privacy and Security Debate

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By Darren Guccione February 3, 2016

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Darren Guccione is CEO of Keeper Security.

Currently, there is a heated ongoing debate among politicians, government agencies and technology providers regarding the use of encryption and whether law enforcement agencies should have a so-called backdoor into encrypted devices in order to track down and prosecute criminals and terrorists.

This debate also opens up the topic of consumer privacy. U.S. citizens are concerned the government is spying on their activities if they do insert these backdoors into mobile devices. As individuals and employees increasingly use their phones to access data, visit websites, message their friends, conduct e-commerce transactions and much more, there is a rush to ensure data remains secure and encrypted so privacy can be maintained.

One question that has gone unaddressed, however, is why there are no established industry standards for securing mobile devices? We have industry standards for just about everything else -- why not in providing secure devices?

As we continues to grapple with these issues, there are four key considerations surrounding the secure design of mobile devices we should keep in mind in both a government and private sector context.

Security must be built into mobile devices from the outset. Ensuring a baseline level of security on mobile devices can be a challenge. Mobile carriers and manufacturers each have different standards and approaches to building mobile devices. This puts much of the onus on individual users to ensure they have installed security features at the outset of using their device.

Recently, we’ve seen more mobile carriers do the security vetting legwork and pre-install security applications on devices. This may indicate a trend that mobile carriers and manufacturers will be held more responsible for security auditing and testing procedures.

With pre-installed security systems, consumers can have better peace of mind when accessing sensitive data on their mobile devices. The convenience of out-of-the-box security apps could also encourage users to develop better security hygiene from the start rather than having to learn a behavior.

Military-grade encryption is needed in today’s security landscape. Backdoor debate aside, encryption is absolutely vital for mobile devices to maintain data security. According to a study by the Ponemon Institute, two out of three lost smartphones contained sensitive or confidential business information, which makes mobile device encryption especially important.

Encryption can be established on both a hardware and software level. Software-level encryption can offer extra protection of sensitive data, such as enterprise email messages, attachments, contacts and documents, because it only scrambles the data that a given application decides to protect.

Security vendors must be held to higher standards when it comes to protecting their customers’ data. As noted above, there are many benefits to software-level encryption, but it can also be inconsistent and incomplete. For example, application developers may apply encryption differently and some apps could potentially leak data, compromising other apps.

As we grow wiser about mobile security, industry standardization will begin to become wider-known. Many regulators and business enterprises adhere to SOC-2 compliance encryption standards, but this level of industry standardization has not yet become commonplace in the Wild West of mobile applications.

SOC-2 compliance is not easy to obtain because it structurally changes the entire software development process, security, operations and data management of the company, requiring continuous improvement, optimization and a team that embraces the process. In the future, mobile software developers should be required to achieve a certain level of encryption before being achieving distribution via app stores.

IoT security and mobile device security standards must also improve. We are only at the beginning of the mobile security journey. Gartner estimates 25 billion connected “things” will be in use globally by 2020. As our mobile world continues to expand and adopt more apps for controlling our IoT devices, it will also become more critical to examine the security standards surrounding these apps and devices.

Currently, many IoT devices are secured with passwords that are easy to crack or break. Looking ahead, IoT device makers must consider stronger security measures to lock down these devices and the data they transmit.

As the encryption debate continues dragging on, we must recognize the real problem at hand: That stronger security standards are needed across the board. To accomplish this, it is crucial to have conversations at the regulatory level about stronger encryption and stronger mobile security standards to ensure individuals and organizations are protected today and well into the future.

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