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How About Some Antivirus with that Smartphone Plan?

AT&T hopes to get businesses and consumers to subscribe to a new security service for their mobile devices.
October 5, 2012

With malware becoming a genuine threat on smartphones, AT&T is hoping businesses—and eventually consumers—will be willing to pay for an extra subscription service to protect gadgets against viruses and malware with an app and a filtering service that runs on the carrier’s network.

AT&T Mobile Security is being offered only to businesses for now, but next year the company plans to make it available to consumers, too.

Mobile carriers may soon offer various additional other services to smartphone subscribers. AT&T recently demonstrated a service that would translate text messages from one language to another as they travel between devices (see “AT&T Trials Text Message Translation”).

With sales of mobile devices skyrocketing and an ever-growing number of people using their own smartphones at work, the offering could be a big business opportunity for AT&T.

The timing of the service, which was recently made available to all businesses, makes sense from a security standpoint, as hackers—and security software companies—have increasingly turned their attention to smartphones. According to a study from security software maker McAfee, in the second quarter of 2012, there were about 4,500 new malware specimens, and the company’s database now includes around 13,000 malware samples. Most of these were aimed at devices running Android, which is the most common mobile operating system. Additionally, Android devices have fewer security checks than Apple devices do.

A number of downloadable smartphone security apps are already available. Lookout Security & Antivirus and TrustGo Antivirus and Mobile Security, for example, both protect smartphones by scanning a device for threats and checking files and apps against an online database of known malware.

AT&T’s Mobile Security product includes both an app to catch malware on a device and a service that encrypts and analyzes data for signs of malicious activity as it travels over the network.

AT&T chief security officer Ed Amoroso says the combined approach will make it harder for hackers to familiarize themselves with the defensive techniques employed. “It’s part of our 24-7 operations, and we can introduce some uncertainty into that,” he says.

The service will work with any phone that can download an app, Amoroso says, including major platforms like Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry. One function is called AT&T Toggle, which lets a phone’s user switch from normal to work mode. That work mode gives the user’s employer more control over the phone.

Neil Shah, an analyst at Strategy Analytics, calls AT&T’s move a “very important one” because iPhones and Android smartphones are rapidly becoming popular as work devices as the BlackBerry—once a standard work phone because of its high security standards—falls out of favor. 

As happened with PC security software, Amoroso expects that AT&T Mobile Security and similar products will gain ground with enterprise customers and then gradually become the norm with consumers, too. Security software companies like McAfee and Symantec “kind of emerged based on what was driving in the enterprise. We think that is probably going to happen now,” he says. 

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