Mobile security could come down to location

An interesting patent granted to Apple this week could lead to a whole new way of securing mobile devices – a welcome change for businesses. 

The patent, filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, describes changing a phone’s security settings based on the physical location of the device or the wireless network it connects to.

So, for instance, unlocking a phone at home could be made much simpler than unlocking it in public. Or, when a device is at work, it could be given restricted security settings.

Change in mobile thinking

It’s an interesting development for mobile device security.

While BYOD policies and mobile device management services have always allowed for some control over device security, this could theoretically bring these protections to the next level.

It’s one thing to have policies that tell users what’s acceptable at work. It’s another to have a set of conditions that have to be met by the device while it’s on your grounds.

Potential downsides

One drawback from this: A user’s behavior is almost always more effective than than device security restrictions. If users are convinced they’re safe as long as they’re using a phone at home or in the office, they may be tempted to let their guards down.

And even if these changes do make their way to the next generation of iPhones (which isn’t a guarantee by any means – many patents will fizzle out and never be used or have no intention of being used in the first place), that security feature is still a long way off.

Evergreen advice

Here are some words of wisdom to pass along to your mobile users, regardless of their device or platform:

  • You’re the best defense. If something feels wrong with an app or device, you should probably trust your instincts. Many attacks happen because users feel uneasy granting a permission or downloading a mobile app that seems shady, but going along with it anyway.
  • Beware everywhere, but especially outside your network. Being at home or work isn’t a guarantee of safety, but special attention needs to be paid when you move onto a wireless network outside of your house or office. Never trust blindly, but know when you should have extra caution.
  • Follow policies. BYOD policies are there for a reason. Trust them and follow them every time.

What do you think of location-based security? Is it a pipe-dream, the wave of the future or somewhere in between? Leave your feedback in the comments below.

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