New secure Android tool divides data for work or play

A version of Android built to foil hackers would give your smartphone a split personality, separating professional and personal data.

If you use your Android smartphone for both business and pleasure, a product introduced today at a trade show in Germany appears to be worth following. A version of Android called BizzTrust creates two partitions in Android--one for personal use and another super-secure one for business.

BizzTrust is meant to be smart enough to recognize what content belongs in which partition, and store it appropriately--enhancing the security of business data while still allowing you to install as many private apps as you wish. Even if attackers manage to infiltrate an unsecured app, they can't use it to access your business data, and the impact is confined to the private data on your smartphone.

You can see where you are in the system by an on screen color indicator--red for business, green for personal--and move between the partitions with a couple of clicks.

This version of Android has been modified to mark data that comes from trustworthy applications. Your company would determine which applications are approved for business use, as well as what data the apps can access. Your phone would update automatically when it accesses your company's network, keeping the handset's devices up to date and enabling your company to push its apps out to you.

In addition, a security check will run on your phone automatically before it accesses your company's network. If any of the business apps have been tinkered with without authorization, the app's access to the network will be blocked.

"Our development significantly improves the security of today's mobile terminals at no cost to user-friendliness," said Ahmad-Reza Sadeghi, director of cyber-physical systems security at the Center for Advanced Security Research Darmstadt, which developed the product with the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology.

BizzTrust is designed to address a growing problem among businesses created when high tech gadgets do double duty as both personal and business devices.

That approach may be convenient to workers, but their interests and those of an IT department can differ. Most employees would likely prefer unlimited use of their smartphones, installing and using whatever programs they like--even though that can open the door to hackers seeking to attack a business.

The technology introduced today at the it-sa trade fair in Nuremberg uses an encryption scheme built to be as strong as that used by Research In Motion's BlackBerry smartphone. If that's the case, BizzTrust could enhance Android's competitive position against BlackBerry.

RIM has had its own problems of late. Yesterday its European networks went offline, cutting off its users from e-mail, instant messaging, and Web access. After recovering briefly, the networks went down again today.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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