Tag Archives: tablets

Apps vs. the Web, enemy or friend?

Saw this item on Gigaom.

George Colony, the chairman and CEO of Forrester Research, re-ignited a minor firestorm recently, with a presentation at the LeWeb conference in which he argued that the web is dead, and being replaced by the app economy — with mobile and smartphone apps that leverage the cloud or other services rather than the open web.

I have written here and here about the close correlation between Web application security and Web performance.

I know that Mr. Colony has sparked some strong sentiment in the community, in particular from Dave Winer:

If I can’t link in and out of your world, it’s not even close to a replacement for the web. It would be as silly as saying that you don’t need oceans because you have a bathtub. How nice your bathtub is. Try building a continent around it.

Of course, that is neither true nor relevant.

Many apps are indeed well connected, and the apps that are not wired-in, don’t have to be wired; the app is simply doing something useful for the individual consumer (like iAnnotate displaying a PDF file of music on a iPad or Android tablet).

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I became even more cognizant that apps may overtake the open Web over the past 2 weeks when Google Apps was going through some rough spots and it was almost impossible to read email to  software.co.il or access or calendars…except from our Android tablets and Nexus S smartphones.   Chrome and Google Apps was almost useless but Android devices just chugged on.

There is a good reason why apps are overtaking the open browser-based web.

They are simply more accessible, easier to use and faster.

This is no surprise as I noted last year:

The current rich Web 2.0 application development and execution model is broken.

Consider that a Web 2.0 application has to serve browsers and smart phones. It’s based on a heterogeneous server stack with 5-7 layers (database, database connectors, middleware, scripting languages like PHP, Java and C#, application servers, web servers, caching servers and proxy servers.  On the client-side there is an additional  heterogeneous stack of HTML, XML, Javascript, CSS and Flash.

On the server-side, we have

  • 2-5 languages (PHP, SQL, tcsh, Java, C/C++, PL/SQL)
  • Lots of interface methods (hidden fields, query strings, JSON)
  • Server-side database management (MySQL, MS SQL Server, Oracle, PostgreSQL)

On the client side, we have

  • 2-5 languages ((Javascript, XML, HTML, CSS, Java, ActionScript)
  • Lots of interface methods (hidden fields, query strings, JSON)
  • Local data storage – often duplicating session and application data stored on the server data tier.

A minimum of 2 languages on the server side (PHP, SQL) and 3 on the client side (Javascript, HTML, CSS) turns developers into frequent searchers for answers on the Internet (many of which are incorrect)  driving up the frequency of software defects relative to a single language development platform where the development team has a better chance of attaining maturity and proficiency. More bugs means more security vulnerabilities.

More bugs in this complex, broken execution stack means more things will go wrong and as devices and apps are almost universally accessible now; it means that customers like you and me will not tolerate 2 weeks of downtime from a Web 2.0 service provider.  If we have the alternative to use an app on a tablet  device, we will take that alternative and not look back.

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3GPP Long Term Evolution – new threats or not?

3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE), is the latest standard in the mobile network technology tree that produced the GSM/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA network technologies. It is a project of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), operating under a name trademarked by one of the associations within the partnership, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute.

The question is, what will be the data security  impact of LTE deployments? As LTE is IP based and IPv6 becomes more common in the marketplace, will the security requirements of mobile devices become similar to traditional networked devices?  There is already a huge trend  for BYOD or Bring Your Own Device to work, which certainly causes a lot of headaches for information security staffs. Will more bandwidth and flat IP networks of LTE increase the threat surface for corporate IT?

Other than higher performance, LTE features a flat IP network, but I don’t see how that increases the threat surface in any particular way.  The security requirements for mobile networked devices are similar to traditional wired devices but the vulnerabilities are different, namely the potential of unmanaged BYOD tablet/smartphone to be an attack vector back into the enterprise network and to be a channel for data leakage.  The introduction of Facebook smart phones is far more interesting as a new vulnerability to corporate networks than smart phones with a 100MB download and 20MB upload afforded by LTE.

I am not optimistic about the capability of a company to manage employee owned mobile devices centrally and trying to rein in smartphones and tablets with awareness programs.  Instead of trying to do the impossible or the dubious, I submit that enterprise that are serious about mobile data security must take 3 basic steps after accepting that BYOD is a fact of life and security awareness has limited utility as a security countermeasure.

  1. Reorganize physical, phones and information security into a single group with one manager.  This group must handle all data, software IT, physical (facilities) and communications issues with a single threat model driven by the business and updated quarterly. There is no point in pretending that the only phones used by employees are phones installed and operated by the companies telecom and facilities group. That functionality went out the door 10 years ago.
  2. Develop a threat model for the business – this is  key to being able to keep up with rapidly growing threats posed by BYOD.  Update that model quarterly, not yearly.
  3. CEO must take an uncompromising stance on data leaks and ethical employee behavior. It should be part of the company’s objectives, measurable in monetary terms just like increasing sales by 10% etc.

 

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