I stumbled across an article this morning that analyses the threat to the mobile devices from malware and comes to the conclusion that it is not likely a good idea to have an anti-virus on your mobile.
The premises are that only a very few of the mobile devices are currently infected, so the conclusion is that the infection is unlikely, plus that anti-virus software is terribly ineffective at catching the malware. The author concludes that the industry is best off to dump anti-virus on mobile and move to secure-by-design hardware and software.
I wholeheartedly agree that moving to secure-by-design devices would be excellent. I personally prefer an old trustworthy Nokia rather than any new fashionable smart phones for making calls and reading RSS. On the other hand, there is a couple of problems with the analysis and the proposition itself.
First, the apparent absence of the malware infection on the phones says nothing about either the actual infection or the possibility of infection. The mobile malware may get better tomorrow and the levels will jump overnight. Or perhaps we do not analyse it properly. The likelihood of infection is not a function of the current rate of infection.
Moreover, asking the mobile industry to make secure devices is vain. This is the same as asking the software industry to make secure software. They are just not going to. Security costs money, security is a cost for the manufacturer and they will reduce it through the floor if they can.
Secure-by-design is only going to happen when the costs of security breaches stop being externalities for the producer. As long as customers bear the costs, security remains the problem of the customer.
The article “Password denied: when will Apple get serious about security?” in The Verge talks about Apple’s insecurity and blames Apple’s badly organized security and the absence of any visible security strategy and effort. Moreover, it seems like Apple is not taking security sufficiently seriously even.
“The reality is that the Apple way values usability over all else, including security,” Echoworx’s Robby Gulri told Ars.
It is good that Apple gets a bit of bashing but are they really all that different? If you look around and read about all other companies you quickly realize it is not just Apple, it is a common, too common, problem: most companies do not take security seriously. And they have a good reason: security investment cannot be justified in short-term, it cannot be sold, and it cannot be turned into bonuses and raises for the management. And the risks are typically ignored as I already talked about previously.
So in this respect Apple simply follows in the footsteps of all other software companies out there. They invest in features, in customer experience, in brand management but they ignore the security. Even the recent scandal with Mat Honan’s life wipe-out that got a lot of publicity did not change much if anything. The company did not suffer sufficient damage to start thinking of security seriously. The damage was done to a private individual and did not translate into any impact on sales. So it demonstrated once again that security problems do not damage the bottom line. Why else would a company care?
We need the damage done to external parties to be internalized and absorbed by the companies. As long as it stays external they will not care. The same thing exactly as the ecology – ecological cost is external to the company so it would not care unless there is regulation that makes those costs internal. We need a mechanism for internalizing the security costs.