Gartner: Businesses should be wary of iPhone

Handset could breach corporate security if adopted before it's put to the test in the consumer market, analyst group says.

Analyst Gartner claims the iPhone could "punch a hole" through corporate security systems if workers are allowed to use the phone for work purposes.

IT departments should be extremely wary of allowing employees to use Apple's mobile handset because it does not contain the necessary functionality to comply with basic corporate security, analysts warned in a research note released on Thursday. The iPhone will be launched in the U.S. on Friday.

Gartner lists the following reasons to steer clear of the iPhone for now:

• Lack of support from major mobile device management suites and mobile-security suites

• Lack of support from major business mobile e-mail solution providers

• An operating-system platform that is not licensed to alternative-hardware suppliers, meaning there are limited backup options

• Feature deficiencies that would increase support costs (for example, iPhone's battery is not removeable)

• Currently available from only one operator in the U.S.

• An unproven device from a vendor that has never built an enterprise-class mobile device

• The high price of the device, which starts at $500

• A clear statement by Apple that it is focused on consumer rather than enterprise

Integrating mobile devices and other communications technology into corporate IT networks, while maintaining security policies, has become an increasing problem for businesses. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that manufacturers provide tools that allow staff to unilaterally integrate their device into the corporate network, the analyst group claims.

"Most handheld devices come with easy-to-use tools that enable rapid interfaces to business systems," the report stated. "When end users install such tools, they effectively 'punch a hole' through the enterprise security perimeter--data can be moved across applications to personally owned devices, without the IT organization's knowledge or control."

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Gartner argues that companies should develop a "managed diversity" approach to supporting mobile devices. This approach effectively allows a wide variety of devices to be supported, but with trade-offs, such as limited access to some systems, to maintain security levels.

However, because the iPhone is a new device, and Apple doesn't have a history of building secure mobile devices for businesses, the analyst group recommends that companies leave the handheld alone for now.

Apple is not positioning the iPhone as a business device, but the company's decision to use the Ajax development technique in the handset could make it a useful platform for enterprise mobility. Business and service providers can effectively create Web applications in Ajax and port them onto any device--including the iPhone--with minimal fuss, Apple claimed at its World Wide Developers Conference, held earlier this month in San Francisco.

"Developers and users alike are going to be very surprised and pleased at how great these applications look and work on (the) iPhone," said Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs. "Our innovative approach, using Web 2.0-based standards, lets developers create amazing new applications while keeping the iPhone secure and reliable."

Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, who sits on Apple's board, has also claimed that the iPhone is uniquely positioned to become a mobile platform for the search specialist's hosted applications.

"iPhone is a powerful new device and is going to be particularly good for the apps that Google is building. You should expect other announcements from the two companies over time," he said.

Apple could offer no comment on Gartner's report at the time of writing.

Andrew Donoghue of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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