Mobile Security, Not Realy Usable, Not Really Secure

Yesterday I stumble upon a journalist opinion who think that current Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer, is just a twerp when it comes to mobile security. I do not think we should qualify someone, even the CEO of an internet company like Yahoo!, of a twerp just because one does not use a pass-lock for its mobile phone.

Why mobile phone security is important?

It is certainly about money, one could use your phone/data connection, but you can easily/quickly close this gap (e.g. using Apple’s Find my iPhone, or some Android equivalents). The other thing that has value is the personal data within the phone. But this has value either in the numbers (smart phone data from thousands of users stolen could interest spammers and hoaxers, for sure) – but unlikely with one phone theft – or because you are a high-profile person or you want to use those data against its rightful owner (blackmail, defamation, etc.).

So yes, security is important for a mobile device.

Security vs. usability

But the usability and efficiency of the security features on mobile is awful! It gets into the way of quickly grabbing the phone and performing an action (urgent call, photo, etc.).

Which is why I understand that people do not want to use a pass-code or similar mechanism to access their phone. Most are cumbersome, they get in the way of easily/readily use the phone (that’s why I still carry a camera when I want to take pictures!). And their relative security is dubious. The PIN1 or gesture authentication mechanism can sometimes – and with the right tool – be read from the finger traces on the phone and/or could be brute force (I am convinced there are ways to do that automated).

Since a few weeks I have a smart phone. It is not a too old one, neither a brand new one, but it is a good smart phone. I got a Samsung Galaxy S (1st generation). I have tried several pass-lock, there is the ubiquitous 4 digits PIN, the swipe gesture, a password, a simple lock and nothing. Clearly, the two last options are the one usable! Out of the pseudo secure ones, only the PIN code seemed not too difficult to use. This is a great disappointment. I do not trust my phone to protect my data to the same extent I trust my computer. And the worst, it seems that making this better is not on the agenda of most manufacturers/mobile OS providers, unless you count the attempt by Apple to improve at least the usability side with the fingerprinting.

Fingerprinting is not the panacea in terms of security. But when properly implemented it is as secured as a PIN-lock and it does not get in the way of using the phone2. Furthermore, I am sure this technology will evolved and we can hope in the near future to have good-enough fingerprinting-lock technology which can surpass PIN-lock in terms of security.


  1. I still do not get why PIN pass-code system do not randomise the place of the numbers on the screen!?!
  2. This is my humble opinion, no hard facts. Others have better expressed their views on fingerprinting on mobile phone than I did.