Vodafone Partners with Defense Contractor BAE Systems on Mobile Security

BAE Systems and Vodafone announced this week a five-year partnership to provide businesses with a range of advanced communications and security products. The collaboration will be initially focused on smartphones and tablet, with a first product announced for spring 2013: the Vodafone Mobile Threat Manager, a “cloud-based mobile security solution”. The solution looks to be a network-based one, scanning traffic on the carrier’s network for malware and other suspicious data. The cloud platform intimates that the mobile client will likely be light and able to run on a variety of different brands, ideally using minimal power and with real-time updates. More details will undoubtedly emerge closer to launch. The Threat Manager will be provided to Vodafone’s 1,500 enterprise consumers, as well as to BAE System’s 35,000 UK employees – a well-populated testing ground for the product launch.

The partnership comes at a good time. Mobile security is an area that needs to be tackled quickly before malware and threats pull too far ahead, especially on the carrier network side. Mobile operators have been slow to address security concerns. It may be that they feel security is already adequately covered, or that adopting outside solutions undermines their own security efforts. Whatever the reason, the mobile security space is being spearheaded by third party software developers, and they are firmly entrenching themselves in this mobile niche. This doesn’t mean operators don’t have a role to play; on the contrary, they have what third party developers lack: an established subscriber base.

Vodafone has played its cards well by signing up with a vendor that offers more than a pre-loaded security app. Although Vodafone teamed up with McAfee last year to offer McAfee Mobile Security for Android on a subscription model, the operator is playing a much longer term game with BAE Systems. By partnering with the British defense, security and aerospace giant on a collaborative partnership, it will be able to not only take advantage of security solutions, but also of BAE System’s cybersecurity arm, Detica, and its know-how and expertise to develop joint-products.  The partnership not only looks beyond mobile applications to the network itself, but anticipates technological developments by agreeing to develop joint communication and security products in general. This implies that the partnership may not be limited to just smartphones and tablets, but also to future devices the market will throw up in the next five years. Furthermore, BAE Systems Detica is part of the UK’s Cyber Incident Response scheme launched by the GCHQ in November 2012. Vodafone will be able to leverage this advantage to develop effective and government-grade security technologies for its business clients – a strong argument in the current charged climate of economic cyber espionage.

For BAE Systems, the Vodafone partnership shows that it is taking mobile security seriously. Information and communication technologies are part of a nation’s critical information infrastructure. By collaborating with one of the leading carriers, BAE Systems is effectively consolidating its reputation as a private sector provider of comprehensive national security and defense solutions. The company is addressing not just IT systems, but also emerging mainstream communications such as cloud services and smart devices. Leveraging a mobile network also allows it to extend intelligence gathering capabilities about cyber threats and malicious agents which will be highly useful in the development of appropriate security solutions for its joint collaboration program.