By Sam Pfeifle
Publications Director

Last week, IBM announced it will soon acquire FiberLink, a maker of cloud-based mobile-device-management technology and the MaaS360 product. The news ought to be interesting to privacy professionals on its own, drawing attention to a tech provider that will now have access to IBM’s much larger resources in attempting to solve a problem, in BYOD, with which many struggle.

However, it is also part of what IBM Director of Mobile Security Caleb Barlow called a “string of pearls” that includes the acquisition of Trustseer and the creation of a “cybersecurity software lab” in Israel, staffed with 200-plus researchers who will focus on mobile and application security.

“We’ve been looking at the BYOD space for some time,” said Barlow. “Mobile devices are quickly becoming the primary way people interact with everything.”

What IBM believes it will do with the FiberLink acquisition is bring together sandboxing with transaction protection in one mobile security and privacy platform. Further, the full suite of IBM’s MobileFirst products, Barlow said, will allow firms to not only develop their own apps with Privacy by Design but also allow for trusted mobile transactions and personalized BYOD policy-making.

FiberLink provides that last bit. “We needed two methods of app wrapping, something that scales and something that people actually want to use and not get frustrated with,” Barlow said. FiberLink has “deployed to lots of customers at scale.”

Combined with Trustseer, the IT department could now do all of the traditional mobile device management tasks like wipe corporate data upon an employee’s departure from the company but also do things like scan applications from iOS and Android platforms and provide micro VPN services.

Much of that might fall under IT’s purview, but there’s quite a bit of privacy play here, too. For instance, you’ve got to make sure you can correctly identify what’s corporate data and what’s private data on that mobile device and have an enforceable policy about who can look at what on that mobile device.

“I can almost guarantee you that just by looking at your apps, I can tell whether you’re single or married, your sexual orientation,” said Barlow. “I don’t need to know anything about the data, let alone that the data is even more revealing. I don’t want all of that rolling up to my employer.”

And you’ve got to be able to execute the “legally defensible wipe”—“How do we maintain integrity over what and where the private data is?”

Looking for more information on Bring-Your-Own-Device programs? Check out Close-Up: BYOD in the IAPP Resource Center for the pros and cons of BYOD, guidance on how to create a BYOD policy and more.

What nobody can do yet, and what IBM has in its sights, is automatically vet apps that are downloaded onto a mobile device for things like unnecessary access to contacts, calendar, etc.

IBM also hopes to leverage its own internal privacy team in developing its consumer-facing technology. For this acquisition in particular, Barlow said, the whole internal CIO office was closely consulted in a way that’s rare for IBM transactions.

“We need to solve this for ourselves, as well,” he noted, “and we’ll leverage this transaction by eating our own dogfood. We have 100,000 BYOD devices already, and we’ve had to limit what we do with those things because of concerns over security and privacy. Those are a barrier to mobile adoption. There are things that we want to do that we haven’t been able to do because we have to worry about data infiltration … Getting this right is a critical thing on our radar screen.”

“The Holy Grail on this,” said Barlow, “is that you’ve got to be able to do something with third-party apps.” All of the top Android apps and most of the top iOS apps have hacked variants that mimic their true versions but instead install malware or create opens for data theft. “We have to identify and find those applications that either have hacked variants or just have really cruddy permissions … How do we improve the scanning tools to find vulnerabilities, to find the permissions that don’t make sense? Why does the flashlight app need your location? Why is this other app routinely calling a server around the world?”

Interestingly, Barlow said IBM’s team believes it won’t be long before it will be feasible to be more secure on mobile devices than a laptop.

“If I have the ability to sandbox everything,” he said, “to containerize our corporate data, I’m not stuck in that anti-virus world where I’m dependent on signature analysis. We actually have the opportunity to lead on mobile and eventually go back to the laptop.”

For that, we may just have to see how IBM’s acquisition strategy works out.

Read More By Sam Pfeifle:
Circle Makes Us Square
Strickland new CPO at JP Morgan Chase
Senate Bill Ending Shutdown Funds PCLOB
Brill To Headline “Reclaim Your Name” Event at NYU


If you want to comment on this post, you need to login.


Board of Directors

See the esteemed group of leaders shaping the future of the IAPP.

Contact Us

Need someone to talk to? We’re here for you.

IAPP Staff

Looking for someone specific? Visit the staff directory.

Learn more about the IAPP»

Daily Dashboard

The day’s top stories from around the world

Privacy Perspectives

Where the real conversations in privacy happen

The Privacy Advisor

Original reporting and feature articles on the latest privacy developments

Privacy Tracker

Alerts and legal analysis of legislative trends

Privacy Tech

Exploring the technology of privacy

Canada Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top Canadian privacy news

Europe Data Protection Digest

A roundup of the top European data protection news

Asia-Pacific Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from the Asia-Pacific region

IAPP Westin Research Center

Original works. Groundbreaking research. Emerging scholars.

Advertise in IAPP Publications

Find out how to get your message in front the people you want to reach. Download a media kit now.

Get more News »

Find a KnowledgeNet Chapter Near You

Network and talk privacy at IAPP KnowledgeNet meetings, taking place worldwide.

Women Leading Privacy

Events, volunteer opportunities and more designed to help you give and get career support and expand your network.

IAPP Job Board

Looking for a new challenge, or need to hire your next privacy pro? The IAPP Job Board is the answer.

Join the Privacy List

Have ideas? Need advice? Subscribe to the Privacy List. It’s crowdsourcing, with an exceptional crowd.

Find more ways to Connect »

Find a Privacy Training Class

Two-day privacy training classes are held around the world. See the complete schedule now.

Online Privacy Training

Build your knowledge. The privacy know-how you need is just a click away.

The Training Post—Can’t-Miss Training Updates

Subscribe now to get the latest alerts on training opportunities around the world.

New Web Conferences Added!

See our list of upcoming web conferences. Just log on, listen in and learn!

Train Your Staff

Get your team up to speed on privacy by bringing IAPP training to your organization.

Learn more »

CIPP Certification

The global standard for the go-to person for privacy laws, regulations and frameworks

CIPM Certification

The first and only privacy certification for professionals who manage day-to-day operations

CIPT Certification

The industry benchmark for IT professionals worldwide to validate their knowledge of privacy requirements

Certify Your Staff

Find out how you can bring the world’s only globally recognized privacy certification to a group in your organization.

Learn more about IAPP certification »

Get Close-up

Looking for tools and info on a hot topic? Our close-up pages organize it for you in one easy-to-find place.

Where's Your DPA?

Our interactive DPA locator helps you find data protection authorities and summary of law by country.

IAPP Westin Research Center

See the latest original research from the IAPP Westin fellows.

Looking for Certification Study Resources?

Find out what you need to prepare for your exams

More Resources »

GDPR Comprehensive: Registration Open

New! Intensive two-day GDPR training led by the sharpest minds in the field. It's a can't-miss event.

The Congress Is Cancelled

The IAPP Europe Data Protection Congress 2015 is cancelled. Click through to learn more.

Sponsor an Event

Increase visibility for your organization—check out sponsorship opportunities today.

Exhibit at an Event

Put your brand in front of the largest gatherings of privacy pros in the world. Learn more.

More Conferences »

Become a Member

Start taking advantage of the many IAPP member benefits today

Corporate Members

See our list of high-profile corporate members—and find out why you should become one, too

Renew Your Membership

Don’t miss out for a minute—continue accessing your benefits

Join the IAPP»