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FTC and FCC Inquiry about Mobile Device Security

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Earlier this month, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched parallel inquiries into mobile carriers and device manufacturers about their processes for reviewing and releasing security updates for mobile devices. Representatives from these organizations say their goal is "to better understand, and ultimately to improve, the security of mobile devices."

Some might make the argument that this inquiry isn't needed at this time because mobile security isn't a significant issue. This year's Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) for example doesn't include a focus on mobile because there's not "significant real-world data on these technologies as the vector of attack on organizations."

On the other hand, there are several reasons why investigating mobile security now, instead of when it reaches the level where the DBIR has sufficient data to cover it as a topic area, makes sense:

  • Mobile on corporate networks is a common occurrence today. As we saw in the results of the 2016 BYOD and Mobile Security Survey, 72% of survey respondents had reached the stage where BYOD was available to all (40%) or some (32%) employees. And what employees do with mobile devices on corporate networks is becoming increasingly complex. Where email and contact management used to be the norm, today many people use their mobile devices for accessing work documents and data as well as accessing applications with sensitive data like Salesforce.
  • Mobile vulnerabilities and malware are getting more sophisticated. Some of the reports about this inquiry use Stagefright as an example of the growing number of vulnerabilities associated with mobile operating systems. Stagefright is a piece of code in Android that can be exploited by hackers to send malware to any user via text message. As a recipient, you don't even have to open the text message for your phone to be infected. Almost a billion phones were at risk when the vulnerability was first discovered last year.
  • Updating mobile devices can be complicated. One of the reasons that the FCC and FTC have parallel inquiries is because the process for issuing security updates is complicated and often lengthy. The carriers often customize the software on their devices, especially for Android devices, making it necessary for the operating system vendor like Google to go through a two-step process where Google submits updates to carriers and the carriers then push to device users. The longer it takes carriers and device manufacturers, the longer consumers are exposed. And if for some reason the carrier chooses not to push updates at all, consumers are left with orphaned devices.

This inquiry is just that at this time - an inquiry. The carriers and device manufacturers have 45 days to respond. After that, the FCC and FTC say they will analyze the responses and share data with each other and determine next steps. Like others, we’re looking forward to seeing the results.

Tenable and mobile security

At Tenable, we believe mobile security is an important part of your overall security program, and we offer multiple solutions to give you visibility into security gaps and vulnerabilities that mobile devices bring to your network.

  • Nessus® Cloud and Nessus Manager integrate with leading Mobile Device Management (MDM) products (Microsoft Exchange, Apple Profile Manager, MobileIron, AirWatch, Good for Enterprise) to capture device information for iOS, Android and Windows phones to perform vulnerability and compliance assessments.
  • SecurityCenter Continuous View™ (SecurityCenter CV™) takes this further by tracking managed and unmanaged devices continuously as they connect to the network. It also monitors mobile device vulnerabilities and malicious communications over time to identify if they are quickly resolved, or if misconfigured or out-of-compliance devices can be proactively addressed before your next audit.

One of the biggest challenges with mobile is simply getting visibility into its presence on your network. In the Unknown Assets and Shadow IT area of our website, you can learn more about how SecurityCenter CV addresses this challenge.

Many thanks to David Vance for his contributions to this article.

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