Smartphones need better security tools: vendors

Security features like anti-theft protection and biometrics for mobile phones are becoming increasingly important as smartphones grow more popular, according to product vendors.

Finnish security firm F-Secure announced at the Mobile Asia Congress in Macau this week that the fifth release of its mobile security solution, which includes anti-virus and spyware protection, now sports an anti-theft feature that allows operators to remotely lock out S60-based handsets reported lost or stolen.

The solution also enables the handset to lock itself when the SIM card is changed. As a last resort, the operator can send an SMS command to remotely erase all the data on the handset.

Jari Heinonen, APAC vice president for F-Secure, says that while similar solutions exist, they're aimed primarily at enterprises who want to better manage their mobile workforce devices and the apps running on them.

"Smartphones are the fastest growing handset segment in the consumer space, so consumers are increasingly in need of this kind of capability," he said. "And operators want the capability to be able to offer this service so they can protect their customers and differentiate themselves from the competition."

Marko Rapeli, global sales director for F-Secure's mobile solutions business group, added that the solution is more effective as a security-as-a-service model rather than selling direct to end users.

"Ironically, people don't yet think about security for mobile the way they think about security for a PC, because they see the handset as an extension of the operator," Rapeli said. "When something on the handset fails, they call the operator, not the manufacturer or the application developer."

On the handset side, biometric fingerprint scanners could be an option, according to AuthenTec, which makes the fingerprint scanners already embedded in some nine million handsets, primarily in Japan, Korea and the US.

Fingerprint scanners are already being used for basic apps like locking handsets, file folder encryption and enabling mobile payment transactions, but the latter is expected to drive demand for biometric protection as the mobile industry pushes numerous mobile payment schemes from contactless payments to overseas remittance services, said Art Stewart, VP of the wireless product line at AuthenTec.

"Look at the mobile wallet service in Japan, where it's not just a credit card or a debit card, it's cash on your handset," Stewart said on the sidelines of MAC. "If you lose your phone, it's like losing a wallet with money in it, so you'd want a way to keep someone else from spending it."

Another point for fingerprint scanners is that they're evolving beyond straight ID protection features. They also serve as a touch-pad cursor control to navigate the user interface.

AuthenTec recently announced a QuickLaunch feature that lets users access apps and services simply by swiping a specific finger across the scanner - an index fingerprint takes you to the web, the pinky opens your music player, and so on.

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