Smartphone Software Allows Users to Separate Business, Pleasure
On smartphones as in life, mixing business and pleasure can prove disastrous. People who download personal apps onto the same phone they use for work run the risk of exposing their sensitive business material to malware threats, and people who follow business security practices on their personal phones frustratingly limit the uses for their device. Since no one wants to carry around two cellphones, computer security researchers have devised a way to segment a phone into two distinct security areas: a secure one for business, and an open one for play.
Devised by researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Research Institute, "BizzTrust" eases IT department headaches and user frustration by modifying the Android mobile OS to run two parallels of itself on the same device. The BizzTrust software erects a wall between the two virtual phones, letting each run different security settings and preventing malware from crossing between them.
"Our development significantly improves the security of today's mobile terminals at no cost to user-friendliness," said Dr. Ahmad-Reza Sadeghi, a professor and director of Cyber-Physical Systems Security at the SIT/CASED.
BizzTrust can identify whether content belongs to a business or a private application, store it separately in the appropriate partition and control access to the data during operation. This enhances the security of business data while still allowing employees to install as many private apps as they wish. Even if attackers manage to infiltrate an unsecured app, they cannot use it to access company data, and the impact of the attack is confined to the private data on the smartphone.
A color symbol shown in the display lets the user know at all times whether he or she is in the business, or "red," area or in the personal, or "green," area of the smartphone. Two clicks of the touchscreen is all it takes to toggle over to the respective other side.
To implement these two virtual smartphones in a single device, the experts modified the Android operating system so that all data from trustworthy applications is marked as such. The company itself decides which applications are released for business use, and who has access to what areas of company IT. Because these rules may change over time, the business applications are updated or deleted as needed as soon as the user links to the company network.
There is another benefit as well: companies can provide their own apps to employees and keep them updated on a regular basis. Security is guaranteed at all times as well: the telephone‘s software is checked before the telephone can log onto the company's network via a secure VPN link. If a modification is detected, critical applications can be blocked.
The next step for this technology is to equip smartphones with integrated smartcards that provide additional security functions. To supplement BizzTrust, researchers at SIT are now teaming up with partner companies to develop tools to permit IT administrators to manage smartphones on an everyday basis – the technology would establish a secure link with the mobile device for wireless synchronization and backup of the data stored there — or data deletion if the device is lost or stolen.