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Live from the Mobile World Congress: Samsung announces technology to assist in the security of BYOD

February 26th, 2013 |  Published in Mobile World Congress 2013, Samsung

Samsung KNOX


26 February 2013 – Samsung’s mission?  Easy.  It wants to be the Android vendor that corporate enterprises can trust.  At the Mobile World Congress yesterday Samsung announced it was further bolstering its mobile enterprise credentials by releasing KNOX, a comprehensive package of mobile security services that will be integrated into its SAFE (Samsung for Enterprise) brand. We had an opportunity to see a video presentation, as well as work with it first-hand on numerous Galaxy S IIIs.  Samsung had deployed an impressive staff for the announcement.

The actual announcement was made at the AirWatch booth, Samsung’s partner. AirWatch already implements the most Samsung SAFE features of any EMM (Enterprise Mobile Management) provider and will provide same-day KNOX support to enterprises and government institutions. AirWatch is a major player and innovator in mobile security and the large EMM space.

I am having more detailed chats with Samsung and AirWatch later during the conference but based on my review of the press release and the technical specs I was provided the gist of the technology is this:  Samsung KNOX aims to be an end-to-end secure solution that provides security hardening from the hardware through to the application layer. The KNOX platform retains full compatibility with Android and the Google ecosystem while engineering fundamental security and management enhancements.  It has what appears to be a unique application container technology which enables enterprises to support both BYOD and Corporate-Liable models without compromising corporate security or employee privacy. But the application container works similarly to the BlackBerry Balance feature that separates work application data from personal application data and it has the ability to implement separate VPNs to individual applications rather than relying on one VPN for the entire device.

And … the biggie … it has a security-enhanced version of Android that’s been customized to help IT departments enforce more than 300 IT policies and have access to more than 700 mobile device management APIs.

I have written about these security issues before. Security, security, security. It seems you can’t turn around without hearing of another big company being hacked, a mobile system being compromised. We have seen how Android’s “open application” model has led to multiple instances of malicious applications with hidden functionality that surreptitiously harvest user data. Plus multiple incidents of hacking and data loss. Yes, Apple is more secure. The closed ecosystem arising from Apple’s insistence on controlling which apps are allowed to run on their devices probably makes them a little safer than Android equivalents, although iOS APIs are still open to developers and of course, vulnerabilities still exist. Unlike Android, where patches require collaboration of multiple parties (Google, the phone manufacturer, the app developer and so on) the Apple ecosystem does, at least in theory, react faster.

It is one reason enterprises like Blackberry who seems to have perfected ultra secure devices and specialized email servers. I don’t know if BB 10 has any real chance of catching up with either Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. But I suspect that if BB 10 has any success it will be in a niche area where extremely secure email tops the list of things needed in a smartphone platform.

The folks at BGR think that what makes Samsung’s push into the enterprise truly audacious is that it’s something that neither Apple nor rival Android vendors have ever really devoted resources toward accomplishing. In general, smartphone vendors have taken a laissez-faire attitude toward workplace adoption by simply letting consumers bring their devices to work and providing companies with the bare-bones materials that they need, such as VPN support and remote wipe capabilities. With KNOX, Samsung is trying to explicitly move into the territory held by BlackBerry and is trying to get companies to see its Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II devices as real business tools and not just another device workers use to play Angry Birds on company time.

And it is not being lost on the legal community.  This year MWC is packed with general counsel and legal directors (60% of the attendees at MWC are C-level). They have crowded the mobile security vendor booths.  Computing has become more task-centric and this shift by the working populace to mobile task-centric computing comes as user interfaces become truly multi-modal and content, services and applications grow to be pervasive, moving with the user across device types. And whether you call it the “consumerization of IT” or “bring your own device” it is only the beginning, and only a small part.

Two other points, and a concluding comment on Samsung:

1. Also announced yesterday was the Fixmo strategic partnership with Samsung that will see Fixmo’s Sentinel Integrity Services technology on Samsung smartphones and tablets. Good timing as government agencies (there are separate “government only” sessions here at MWC) and enterprise IT are expanding their deployments of consumer-grade Android devices for business applications. The Fixmo technology is used department of defense agencies around the world as an after-market product for BlackBerry and Android deployments.

2. General Dynamics also announced a strategic partnership withSamsung yesterday to incorporate its “GD Protected” technology into Samsung Galaxy devices running the Samsung KNOX technology.  GD technology enables mobile workers to access the public internet and secure enterprise networks using a single, secure,commercial off-the-shelf Samsung device.

Concluding note:

Besides having one of the largest spaces here at MWC (and one of the coolest hospitality wings) …


Samsung booth


… Samsung has created quite a buzz, not least of which via their hand out today of invites to the launch of the upcoming Galaxy S IV phone on March 14 in New York.

More “spicy” is that Android clout is making Google “uneasy”.  The Wall Street Journal has reported fears are growing that Samsung, estimated to have a 29% smartphone share in Q4, will seek a larger cut of Google search ad revenue on its Android devices than the 10%+ it currently receives (Apple is believed to get a 75% cut from Google on iOS/Mobile Safari search ad revenue).

My, oh my, oh my.  It has been a great show.  And that was only Day 1.

For our full Mobile World Congress 2013 coverage click here.

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