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by Senior Editor, CSO

Mobile Security: How Gadgets Evolved

Jul 29, 20095 mins
CybercrimeData and Information SecurityGadgets

CSO publisher Bob Bragdon still has his first mobile office gadget from 1987. We take a trip down memory lane and examine how mobile device security has matured to meet today's data protection needs

CSO Publisher Bob Bragdon is a self-proclaimed “gadget head.” His collection, which spans from 1987, runs the gamut from primitive digital address book to the latest generations of today’s Blackberry and iPhone.

Bragdon, who is also a pack-rat, rifled through his attic and gave us the devices for a little retrospective. We enlisted mobile-office-tech expert Catherine Roseberry, author of ‘Moving to Mobility: Creating a successful remote work environment,’ to give us the details of each device’s features and security. In just over two decades, we see how mobile technology security has transformed from simple password protection to platforms that now secure data transmission with encryption, authorization, access control and firewall protection. (But they still include plenty of vulnerabilities.)

1989: Sharp Dial Master EL-6250H

Bragdon began buying gadgets for work in 1987. His first purchase: A Sharp Dial Master EL-6250H, which he used to store contacts for several years. According to Roseberry, the device was a telephone book, memo pad, calculator and auto phone dialer with an 8KB memory. While it was manufactured long before concerns about data privacy and breaches dominated headlines, it did have a security feature. A secret key was pressed to keep items password protected, according to Roseberry. A key icon indicated whether an item was password protected.

1997: RIM Inter@active Pager 950

Bragdon used his Dial Master until about 1991, but it wasn’t until 1997 that was issued a RIM Inter@active Pager 950 by a former employer. It was his first experience with mobile email communication, he said. The pager had a small keyboard and a full mailbox that held more than 500 contacts. Users could also send and receive two-way pages, faxes and send voice-to-text messages, said Roseberry. It had 2MB of memory and also included an address book, calendar, alarm, calculator and memo pad. While the device was a definite step up in terms of functionality, the only security feature included was password protection, said Roseberry.

1999: HP 6601x

The HP 6601x was the first mobile device Bragdon used that had connectivity. A “brick,” as Bragdon described it, it had 32MB of RAM, included a PCMCIA WiseCom 56.6kbps modem, and had Windows CE Services 2.1. It also had an IR Port and a docking cradle to connect to a PC.

Security included password protection similar to that of a PC, said Roseberry. However, if you lost your password, the device required a hard reset. All data was lost.

2000: Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC

As the sophistication of mobile devices grew, so did Bragdon’s reliance on them. He began to put presentations and other sensitive information on this device, he said. Roseberry said some of the features on the iPAQ included 32 MB of memory, a 12-bit TFT 240 x 320 display that adjusted to different light conditions via an ambient light sensor, a206 MHz Intel StrongARM processor, which was the fastest of the crop of Pocket PCs at that time, a USB port that is used to connect via a cradle to a desktop PC, and a Infrared port that also can be used to connect to a desktop PC.

The iPAQ had the Windows OS, so the password protection was the same as on a PC, said Roseberry. iPAQ Backup saved data to an external device. Backed up data could be compressed or encrypted.

2002: Sony Clie PEG-NX70V/U

“This was actually pretty cool,” said Bragdon about the Clie, the first multimedia device he owned. It had an integrated camera and swivel display, among other features. It operated on the Palm OS and 8MB built-in memory and included a Memory Stick expansion slot, said Roseberry. This gadget included a full complement of applications to make use of the multimedia capabilities, she noted. It was compatible with versions of Windows from 98 to XP Pro edition.

Security features were more robust on the Clie and included data backup to PC, personal information protection and the ability to mask certain data with password protection. That data was invisible to anyone who didn’t know the password, said Roseberry. However, like the HP, a lost password required a hard reset.

2004: Blackberry 7100 t

Bragdon got his first Blackberry in 2004. An early-generation Blackberry, it was strictly a business device and had no camera or ability to play MP3s, like more contemporary versions do. It could send/receive emails, text messages and chat. Users could view Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files and Adobe PDFs, but could not edit them on this device.

Security features, said Roseberry, included password protection, device-locking capability, content protection and compression, a password keeper that encrypts passwords, and a firewall protection to prevent programs from transmitting data without user approval.

2009: Blackberry Curve and the iPhone

These days Bragdon carries a Blackberry Curve for business and an iPhone for personal needs. While Bragdon has always kept personal-use gadgets separate from work devices, he noted it’s more important than ever now due to considerations of intellectual property and the information stored on a corporate mobile device.

“If I walk out the door, who owns it?” he said.