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Over-the-Rainbow Promises of Mobile Entertainment - Security remains an issue

Over-the-Rainbow Promises of Mobile Entertainment - Security remains an issue

Now that I've got my satellite uplink working, it's time for some luxuries here in Scotland, the first of which will be central heating. Coal is not the fuel of the future, and going out every morning to fill the scuttle isn't something I'll miss. First to arrive is an oil tank - our fuel still had to be stored on-site - and with it, what appears to be an electricity plug with an aerial on top. Closer inspection reveals this is our oil-level indicator, which picks up a wireless transmission from the tank in the garden and alerts us when we need to get another delivery. It may not be the latest radio technology, or utilize industry standard communications protocols, but it's through devices like this that we'll see wireless coming into our homes, changing every part of our lives.

At least this is one application where security isn't an issue. I have no objection to anyone who wants to intercept information about my readiness for a cold snap, but the issue of security in mobile devices is very much headline news. Hacks are starting to emerge that, apparently, enable other Series 60 phones to play games intended for the Nokia N-Gage. While this is worrisome for Nokia, what's more surprising for the rest of us is that it seems few of the N-Gage games are taking advantage of improved capabilities. If they are capable of running on other Series 60 devices, then they're only using standard Series 60 APIs.

This has also triggered a wider debate about the security of mobile devices in general. Will the opening of APIs and platforms inevitably lead to devices as lacking in core security as the desktop computer? While various groups attempt to add architectural security to the desktop through serial-numbered processors and hard-coded keys, will mobile computing reverse the process, giving up its secure certificate-store and opening us up to a new generation of worms and Trojans?

This is a key area of difference between the cellphone and the PDA. While PDAs still aspire to be desktop systems, allowing anyone's application access to any resources, cellphones tend to be a little more circumspect. Management systems such as QUALCOMM's BREW ensure that applications that haven't been approved by the network operator can't be installed on the phone. While this may seem draconian, it provides the only realistic way for a network to protect its customers (and, by extension, its own network). Voluntary systems, such as the warnings that pop up on a Symbian handset, rely on customers not only being able to make an informed judgment of the risk, but also being prepared to take responsibility for their decision.

It won't be long before we see the first customers complaining that they never made those international calls, or sent those premium-rate text messages, and instead, have found that a Trojan has infected their handset. It remains to be seen how the networks will react. If voluntary systems are ever going to be effective, then someone is going to have to inform the users of their responsibility. Just stating on a download site that the user will be asked some questions and should reply "yes" to all of them is enough to get most users to comply, no matter how dire the warnings displayed. This is already a huge issue for desktop computers; let's try and keep it out of our pockets.

One very good reason for mobile devices to have proper security on them is for Digital Rights Management, protecting the rights of the copyright holder regarding content sold for phones. Network operators are looking to sell entertainment - everything from radio shows, games, music, and eventually films - direct to your mobile, but without being able to protect the content, there's no way of making money. There seems to be an unwritten rule that once we're able to delivery quality audio and video content on the move, the money will roll in from subscriptions and pay-per-use business models. Even if phones do prove to be a secure platform, there's no guarantee that customers will pay for it. We're taking a long look at the over-the-rainbow promises of mobile entertainment, and it seems that the figures aren't adding up.

Location-based services is another avenue expected to bring in more revenue, but here the problems are very different. We've already talked about the impact location-based services may have on personal privacy, but the latest developments got us thinking about another demographic group who might be affected: children. We're coming into a world where paranoia about the welfare of children is reaching endemic proportions, so in this month's issue, we take a look at the rights of the children to protect their location. I know my childhood would have been awfully different if my parents knew where I was all the time, and it seems that the next generation might be living that.

So one year ends very much as it began, with concerns about security and personal privacy foremost in industry minds, though this should not be taken to mean that there has been no progress in the last 12 months. These issues will not go away, and as wireless technologies find their way into new areas of our lives it's important we talk about them and work out the kind of world we want to live in for the next 12 months and beyond.

More Stories By Bill Ray

Bill Ray, former editor-in-chief (and continuing distinguished contributor to) Wireless Business & Technology magazine, has been developing wireless applications for over 20 ears on just about every platform available. Heavily involved in Java since its release, he developed some of the first cryptography applications for Java and was a founder of JCP Computer Services, a company later sold to Sun Microsystems. At Swisscom he was responsible for the first Java-capable DTV set-top box, and currently holds the position of head of Enabling Software at 02, a UK network operator.

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