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How should NFC security risks affect a BYOD security policy?

Security expert Nick Lewis explores the emerging security risks posed by NFC technology and discusses their effect on enterprise BYOD policy.

Securing mobile devices that access the corporate network is hard enough, but now I'm reading about all of the security holes with the near field communication (NFC) technology that is built in to many of these newer devices. Are there any methods enterprises can use to secure NFC in mobile devices? Should we just consider banning such devices in BYOD security policies?

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Charlie Miller's security research for Accuvant Labs details the many vulnerabilities he found in NFC implementations. These vulnerabilities allowed him to access photos, send text messages, make calls and browse the Internet. If an attacker is able to force access to the Internet over NFC, they could potentially root the phone. The security risk from NFC attacks could be minimized by using an app that only enables the feature for a short period when its use is absolutely necessary. Keeping mobile devices updated with the most recent patches also helps reduce any NFC security risks, but, of course, this depends on the wireless carrier ecosystem used to deploy the patches.

In most environments, banning any device as a part of a BYOD policy would be impossible to do consistently. If a company has the sufficient resources and enough control to search everyone who enters your buildings or check the configuration of all devices connecting to your systems or network, it might be possible.

Many enterprises have fretted over any new wireless technology that they don't think they can fully control, including WiFi, Bluetooth, RFID and now NFC. Enterprise fears over wireless security even created a market for anti-WiFi paint, so special phone cases that block NFC are probably the next cell phone accessory to be marketed along with RFID blockers. For some enterprises, security concerns over NFC technology are legitimate, but for the majority of enterprises that don't have such stringent security requirements, worrying about NFC may not be a good use of information security resources.

This was last published in December 2012

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