Today’s Irish Independent has an article on “Are buggy smart phones now the reality in our new ‘beta culture’?” Marie Boran interviewed me for the pieceasking for my thoughts on the security implications resulting from our acceptance in using Beta products.
From a security point of view I have to admit that I do have concerns over the growing “beta culture”. The problem is compounded by what is now acceptable to release to consumers. In many cases tagging the phrase “beta” to your product seems to be like a get out of jail card free. But in spite of that tag a lot of these products are snapped up by the public without any consideration as to the potential risks. Would you buy a Micro Wave, car or gas boiler if you were told it is not fully tested? Yet for electronic gadgets, computer systems and application software the general public seems to be comfortable entrusting their “digital life” to untried and untested solutions.
Look at Google’s range of applications. Gmail is still beta, as is Google docs. Yet millions of people and businesses are entrusting sensitive and personal data to these applications. Another good example is the Google Chrome browser. This is still a beta product yet when released it created a buzz and many people downloaded it onto their systems. Within days a number of security bugs were found within Chrome and Google had to rush out patches.
The challenge many of the vendor companies face is that they have commercial deadlines to meet in order to satisfy shareholders and customers. To compete, products are becoming more and more sophisticated and complex. It used to be all you used your mobile phone for was making and receiving phone calls. Now your phone is a mini-computer that can take pictures, videos, record and play music and browse the Internet. But complex systems are very difficult to secure properly. The problem is that criminals and hackers actively look to exploit bugs in these systems. Badly designed and/or complex systems that are not properly tested will result in those criminals being successful.
Consumers also seem to be not aware of the risks. They want the latest and greatest gadgets or applications to show off to their friends or workmates, yet do not worry if the products they are using could result in their data being lost, corrupted or accessed by others.
The above is compounded by the fact that companies often have in their license agreements clauses that protect them from legal action from the customer should their device or application fail in such a way to cause them damages. So if your sensitive financial details are stolen from your shiny new phone by criminals due to a bug in the phone’s software then you have little or no recourse with the manufacturer.
Consumers need to be more cognisant of the risks they take with new systems and not rush out to buy the latest gadgets until they have been properly proven. But with the appetite for newer and shinier toys ever increasing this may not happen.
Me I still stick by my trusty Nokia 6310i mobile phone.