By Jennifer L. Schenker
Today’s smartphones are actually tiny computers, complete with operating systems, storage, and–in many cases–direct access to internal company networks. That makes them an increasingly attractive target for hackers and scam artists.
London-based software company Symbian, which makes the most widely-used smartphone operating system, already has tallied more than 30 mobile-phone viruses that can inflict a range of damage, including stealing data, infecting files, replacing applications, disrupting system functions, and installing malware. Phishing, or criminally fraudulent
attempts to acquire sensitive information such as identities, passwords, or credit card information, is an even bigger problem on mobile devices.
Beijing-based NetQin is helping users around the world fight back. The company delivers mobile security tools through an Internet-based service, including anti-virus, anti-spam, privacy protection, data backup and restoration, and online virus scan, to 55 million users in more than 200 countries. NetQin already controls 68 percent of the mobile security market in China because it’s the exclusive provider of anti-spamming services to China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator, but 30 percent of its user base is international.
NetQin is one of 31 companies named by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum on Sept. 1 as Technology Pioneers offering new technologies or business models that could have a positive impact on peoples’ lives. “As mobile phones become the information center that connects people with the world, mobile security is becoming a fundamental, key service for people’s daily lives,” says Lin Yu, Netqin’s chief executive.
NetQin employs a number of esoteric techniques to work its magic. To filter out spam, for instance, it uses semantic analysis to read incoming text messages and weed out the junk mail. The service also learns on the fly thanks to examples of spam submitted by other customers. Indeed, every time NetQin’s users access its services they “contribute” more knowledge about viruses, spam, and phishing to the platform, which is in turn passed on to the rest of the NetQin community. That means the more users NetQin brings in, the more valuable its service becomes.
Users can sign up via NetQin’s Web site, through operators such as China Mobile, or via mobile phones pre-loaded with NetQin software from manufacturers such as Nokia , Sony-Ericsson , Huawei , Samsung, and Lenovo.
One of NetQin’s key advantages is that its virus scanning engine was designed from the beginning to operate inside mobile phones, so it uses little power and doesn’t interfere with normal phone functions when a scan is running. NetQin’s heavy research and development investment has resulted in 23 patented and patent-pending technologies, giving the company a sustained edge against rivals.
Still, NetQin is bound to face heavy competition going forward. Today mobile phone security represents less than 5 percent of the revenues of traditional security and anti-virus companies such as Kaspersky Lab (7986854), Symantec (SYMC), and McAfee (MFE). But that’s about to change, says Eric Domage, program manager for security solutions, Western Europe, at technology researcher IDC (3542284). Domage predicts the market will boom within the next few months, as advances in mobile phone technology allow a host of players to put security software agents onto mobile devices for the first time. Intel’s recent $7.68 billion acquisition of McAfee–adding security software to its chipmaking arsenal–was made in part to ensure its entry into mobile security, Domage says. To stay ahead NetQin will have to grow its business internationally as fast as it has in China.
For a look at all this year’s winners, see a slideshow prepared by Informilo’s Jennifer L. Schenker which is running on Businessweek.com and an in-depth report on each of the tech pioneers that Schenker prepared for the World Economic Forum.