As an employee of a major provider of cloud computing services (IBM Corp), and frankly because I think it is the way we are going, I am a big advocate of cloud models. It is a huge issue, and when we work out all the issues to consumers’ satisfaction, you will see that market explode. Today, however, a different market is already fully exploding as we speak. That is the world of mobile computing.

I am a prime example of the mobile computing craze. Whenever I leave my house for work activities – be they meetings, conferences or sales events – I have several things with me. I have my smart phone in my pants pocket ready to get e-mail from four different accounts. My MP3 player is in my coat pocket playing music or a podcast. In my briefcase are both my ultra light solid state laptop (for work stuff) and my WiFi/3G tablet (for everything else). Telling you this is not intended to cement my “gadget geek” status but to illustrate to you that in the Washington area, this is the norm. Compared to some folks, I travel lightly!

It does not matter if you work for the government, for defense contractors or for tech firms; everyone is “connected” to the maximum. Ride the D.C. Metro system and easily, 8 out of every 10 people will be either plugged in, reading/sending e-mails, reading e-books, texting or talking on the phone. Work does not stay in the office any longer, and mobile computing is not just for travelling “road warriors.” This same scene is played out in most large-to-medium metro areas in America, and with greater frequency in small ones as well.

This vast expansion of both mobile computing capabilities and usage has enormous benefits, for both the individuals doing it and the organizations to which they belong. People are more productive, more of the time, than ever in history. Your child gets sick? You simply work remotely. Company needs to cut back on capital costs? Make more of your workforce tele-workers. Need to change presentation on the fly? Not even a challenge. The quality work you can wring from a tech-enabled workforce is remarkable.

All that said, there are down sides as well. True, you are probably never really “off duty.” (All spouses say “Amen!”) Equally true, you hardly ever see anyone on the Metro just talking and almost never to a stranger. We are more isolated as individuals despite our connectivity. That is a social issue for others than me to reconcile.

My concern is cybersecurity, and mobile computing is one of the new frontiers where this battle is fought. Most folks fail to understand that their smart phones and tablets are every bit as much computers as their laptops, albeit in a different shape and with different interfaces. These “little computers” are just as powerful and capable as their bigger cousins. They are also just as vulnerable to attack and exploitation.

A recent study discussed at a Juniper-sponsored breakfast noted that smart phones (truly the prime movers of mobile computing) are a major concern. In testing, they found that over 10 percent of all smart phones had been infected by malware. The main vector for this infestation was through apps downloaded from the Internet. It is apps that make the darned little things so useful.

Some of you are saying, “Well, 10 percent is pretty low.” I agree, that 10 percent sounds low compared to the percentages of laptops that are infected (numbers run from 25 percent to 75 percent, depending on the source). There are several significant issues that must be highlighted. One is that only about a fourth of all cell phones are smart phones, and these are concentrated in the hands of business and government types (OK, the iPhone Revolution is shifting that greatly, but not yet), while it seems that nearly everyone has a computer today. Malware on a smart phone of your CEO is probably a bigger problem that malware on Granny’s Netbook.

The other factor is that the malware on those computers are often not terribly sophisticated and are mainly financially motivated (spam, botnets, etc). The type on smart phones are almost all very high end, very sophisticated programs that are more accurately called really good spyware. These programs can turn on your phone without your knowledge, read your e-mails and listen to your voice calls. They can even use your phone as a remote listening device. Why the sophistication of smart phone malware? The payoff is potentially very high. The bad guys have always targeted what was easy or what was lucrative. PC’s are easy, smart phones are lucrative.

There are protective software programs for smart phones; do you have any on yours? You can password protect your smart phone; do you? Some of you are the most tech savvy people I know. You may even be along side of me preaching cybersecurity; are you protected?

Mobile computing is here to stay folks, and it will only grow in importance and volume. It will make us ever-more productive. More people will be able to attend their children’s weddings (“What was that buzzing noise during the vows?!), and actually take vacations. But it does carry real risks that will only grow along with the benefits.

Please, be smart, be a part of the solution, not the problem. Protect your mobile devices as zealously as you do your “big” computers.

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More
  • Anonymous

    pay attention on our cell phone…..

  • Anonymous

    Not very smart your PC won’t be infected…