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Privacy issues in mobile computing December 17, 2013

Posted by 8237mcraew in Security.
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What is privacy?  Privacy and privacy rights for users relate to the collection, use, disclosure, storage, and destruction of personal data.  Mobile computing allows users to share information, data, applications, and software over networks. This allows users to access data and applications wherever they can connect online and use various mobile devices to access their data and information. Inherent to cloud computing are privacy concerns as service providers will have access to all the data, and could accidentally or deliberately disclose it or use it for unauthorized purposes.  The utilization of mobile devices in a cloud computing environment exacerbates these privacy concerns.

Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, are handheld computing devices that are typically equipped with WI-FI, Bluetooth and GPS capabilities.  In addition, they are designed to run software applications that come from a number of sources.   These sources can vary in their methods of validation and privacy requirements.

There are some unique privacy challenges for mobile devices that add additional concerns for users.  Because of their mobile nature, mobile devices must support heterogeneous networking [1].  This requires the device to support automatic discovery and configuration of local network services, such as local printers and DNS servers.  Mobile devices current location affects network configurations and must dynamically transmit such location information.  A mobile device carried by a user is likely to be used in a variety of domains.  The security and privacy restrictions of one domain may be significantly different from another.  The inconsistency of domains a mobile user may have access to increase the risk of data mining.

Another unique privacy challenge for mobile devices is its utilization of location dependent information in support of dynamic location queries [2].  In order for your mobile device to provide accurate directions to the nearest restaurant or train station, the device must access the user’s current location.  In some applications, especially social, the device is also required to know the location of another user.

The applications mobile devices use add an additional concern to privacy.  These applications are designed to function within multiple operating environments and there is an additional effort made to create a customized experience for the user.  As a result applications provided by service provider and applications purchased by users collect data about the user.  This often done in a manner that is unobtrusive to the user, and therefore typically invisible to the user.  As regulatory standards have yet to established across the board for mobile devices, the user may not even be aware fully of the data that is collected.  In addition, while an application may expressly access benign and user authorized information, by the nature of its integration with the operating system the application may also have access to related but more sensitive user information.

There are also two security concerns that contribute to privacy issues for mobile devices in the cloud.  The mobile device requires a wireless broadcast network that is inherently less secure as anyone can see the connection, and can access with pirated access protocols.  Secondly, mobile devices increase the chance of physical theft of device and information stored on the device.

In summary, mobile devices increase privacy concerns for computing environments.  Efforts must be made by consumers and network service providers to regulate storage, retention, and destruction of personal information.

[1] Satyanarayanan, M.  “Fundamental Challenges in Mobile Computing”. School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, July 1999.

[2] Bal, G¨okhan. “Revealing Privacy-Impacting Behavior Patterns of Smartphone Applications”. Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany, April 2012.

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