Assessing Windows Mobile Security

Carl Weinschenk

Those looking for simple answers should skip this Computerworld story, which deals with the intricacies of mobile operating system security.

The piece starts with the premise that one of the reasons mobile devices are not suffering the same fate as their desktop counterparts is that they are not subject to the same Microsoft monoculture. The piece quotes a Net Applications figure that 92 percent of desktop OSes are Windows, which has put a long-term and very pronounced target on Microsoft's back. Conversely, the mobile OS landscape is far more varied.

That makes it ironic that at least some companies, according to the piece, may be moving to Windows Mobile. The reasons are that they can't afford separate mobile and desktop infrastructures and want to replicate Microsoft's familiar look and feel on mobile devices.

This raises a raft of interesting, overlapping questions:

  • Is Windows Mobile inherently less secure than Linux, Symbian and other mobile OSes, or simply more vulnerable because so much malware has been written for desktop Windows?
  • Is significant rewriting of viruses necessary to give them the ability to attack Windows Mobile?
  • If viruses aimed at desktop Windows can attack Windows Mobile with little or no rewriting, does that mean that the huge amount of Windows desktop security software likewise can be tweaked for use in a mobile environment?
  • Have safeguards been written into Windows Mobile to neutralize desktop vulnerabilities?
  • Where does Vista fit into this? Can security advances Redmond made in developing the new OS be put to use in the mobile world?
  • In general, are folks fighting the last war if they worry about Windows Mobile security more than other mobile OSes?

Clearly, any discussion of Microsoft and security is loaded. IT departments researching operating systems have to cut through the hype, however, and determine precisely how secure Windows Mobile is, and where it fits into overall security. Part of that research should focus on figuring out the relationship between the desktop and mobile versions of the OSes.

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