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Enterprises warned against first true Google phone, Moto X

Antone Gonsalves | Aug. 5, 2013
It is a security nightmare, experts warn.

The security nightmare corporations face with the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend just got worse with the release of Google's new Moto X.

With the Android smartphone unveiled Thursday, Google is hoping to lure customers with a personal digital assistant that's easy to use and can guess what information or services people want by reading emails and schedules and tracking search queries. While all this data collection may make the device invaluable, it also should make corporations very nervous.

"It's engineers gone wild," said Roger Entner, principal analyst for Recon Analytics. "The engineers are [saying], 'Oh, wouldn't this be a really cool idea,' but don't think through the repercussions."

The ease-of-use features in the Moto X, designed and built by Google-owned Motorola, are likely to tickle consumers while haunting IT security pros. First is the always-on microphone, which a person can use to activate the device using trigger words, such as "OK Google Now," to make phone calls or access services and features. The feature is possible through a special, low-power chip developed by Motorola that keeps the microphone on without draining the battery.

The always-ready microphone, coupled with the massive amount of data collection, makes the Moto X a valuable target for cybercriminals and cyberspies, who are already heavily focused on developing malware to take control of Android devices.

Security researchers say tools for building and distributing Android malware are getting progressively better in the criminal underground. In 2012, the number of Android malware rose more than 2,500% and accounted for 95% of mobile threats on the Internet, according to Cisco's 2013 Annual Security Report.

Malware exists today that can take control of an Android device, if a user can be tricked into installing in infected app from an online store or clicking a malicious link on a text message.

"Once that happens, all bets are off, and all these lovely sensors become a continuous sound and video information-gathering tool on your designated target," said Kurt Stammberger, vice president of market development for mobile security vendor Mocana.

Motorola will also provide hands-free authentication with the Moto X, through a plastic token that can be clipped onto clothing that will communicate via near-field communication (NFC). As long as the token is a few feet away, a password won't be necessary to unlock the device. The token will be sold separately, reports said.

"I'm sure someone at Black Hat or Defcon will figure out a workaround," William Stofega, analyst for IDC, said, referrring to the two security conferences now under way in Las Vegas.

The Moto X is not the first Android phone to have these security-troubling features. The Motorola Droid that debuted last week also has them, industry observers say.


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