Symantec leapfrogs McAfee in mobile security

With mobile security on the radar of corporations, the race is on between Symantec and Intel-owned McAfee to solve the big headache troubling IT: bring-your-own device (BYOD). For now, Symantec has the edge with its latest announcement from its annual Vision conference.

On Tuesday, Symantec rolled out mobile application management technology stemming from the acquisition last month of Nukona, a brand Symantec plans to drop soon in favor of its own.

Symantec's latest product falls within its endpoint-protection portfolio, striking at the heart of what corporations are looking for today: locking down data on a mobile device that belongs to an employee. The BYOD trend has brought sleepless nights to IT staff worrying how to prevent tablet- and smartphone-toting employees from sending corporate e-mail through personal Gmail accounts or file-sharing services like Dropbox or SugarSync.

While preventing malware infections is a concern, controlling the use of data is the bigger problem for corporations. "Malware on mobile devices right now is a pretty minor consideration for companies," Jack Gold, analyst and founder of J.Gold Associates, says. "What is a problem is data leakage and the ability for people who have mobile devices to lose corporate data."

Symantec is providing the ability to wrap corporate applications with a layer of code that prevents data from leaving the phone, unless it is in compliance with corporate policies. By sealing the application, people can use their mobile phone as they choose for personal tasks without risk to corporate data. The technology, which is available as on-premise software or through software over the Internet, can manage Apple iOS, Google Android and HTML5 apps.

Symantec also has technology for managing company-issued mobile devices, which don't have to make the same concessions as with employees' phones and tablets. Symantec acquired Odyssey Software in March to manage Apple iPads and iPhones. Apple support is a must-have, given how the company has ended Microsoft dominance in the enterprise with the adoption of mobile devices. One in five information workers, such as executives and salespeople, use an Apple product, according to the latest figures from Forrester Research.

The acquisitions of Odyssey and Nukona reflect how the mobile security market is shifting from a dozen or so small vendors to major ones buying their way into the market. Until the latest acquisitions, McAfee, which bought mobile management vendor Trust Digital in 2010, had an edge over Symantec. "Symantec has kind of been a little bit behind the eight ball in the sense that it didn't have a strong mobile play," Gold said. The ball is now in McAfee's court, and it's expected to respond quickly.

In the meantime, Symantec has lots to do on the integration front. With so much technology coming from the outside, it will have to be merged with the rest of its portfolio, particularly in the management layer.

Customers are better served when they are able to manage all end-point security for desktops, laptops and mobile devices through one console. "Symantec has made a number of visionary investments for its EPP (endpoint protection platforms) solution; however, it has not provided fast integration for its various acquisitions," the research firm Gartner said in a report released in January.

Read more about wireless/mobile security in CSOonline's Wireless/Mobile Security section.

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