DeWalt: Mobility is McAfee’s number one focus

There’s a lot on McAfee CEO Dave DeWalt’s mind right now. What with a security landscape that includes two of the biggest attacks ever this year, his company’s impending purchase by Intel and its own build-out of its lineup, how could there not be?

But in a Toronto speaking engagement Tuesday morning, DeWalt made it clear that if there’s one thing that’s more on his mind than anything else, it’s trying to lock down an ever-increasing number of mobile devices.

“Mobility is the number one focus we’ve got,” DeWalt told press and analysts minutes after walking a crowd of McAfee partners and customers through the company’s strategy and vision at the Steam Whistle Brewery in downtown Toronto.

The company’s recent acquisition history is a testament to that – both of its major 2010 purchases have been mobility related. In June, the company bought Trust Digital, which makes software for managing mobile devices in a corporate environment, and just a month later it snapped up tenCube, which markets a technology for protecting and finding lost mobile devices.

DeWalt’s case is a timely one, coming as it is just days after the largest mobile malware infection seen to date, malicious code hidden in a fake antivirus software offering that has infected more than a million Chinese mobile phone users. The attack allows the phone to be remote controlled and causes handsets to act as spambot, sending out text messages to the tune of $300,000 per day on users’ phone bills. The kicker – telcos could do nothing to stop it or protect against it, and most infected users had no way of knowing they were compromised. “We’re going to see more of these types of attacks,” DeWalt predicted.

Although that particular attack was as confined as an attack can be in the world’s most populous country, DeWalt said that the mobile security challenge, and security in general, suffers from that type of confusion over who’s responsible for cyber-protection – the security vendor or industry, the government, or the user. In the U.S., it’s the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security. But elsewhere it gets much more foggy, and nowhere is there good communication and collaboration to try to rein in these threats. For those reasons, DeWalt said he supports the creation of a “WHO-type architecture” for worldwide cyber-health, connecting those responsible for electronic protection in various countries around the world. That becomes especially important, he said, in the wake of larger attacks like this year’s Aurora and Stuxnet, which have carried with them the suggestion of various states’ involvement in the creation of malware.

The company’s language has taken a stronger course of late, moving from the discussion of “cyber-crime” to increasing mentions of “cyber-terrorism” and “cyber-warfare.” In fact, in kicking off Tuesday’s event, Ross Allen, senior vice president of Canada and the northeast U.S. at McAfee, noted that the U.S. has recently declared cyber-warfare as “the fifth sphere of warfare” with the creation of Cyber Command.

“The ability to perpetrate these kind of attacks as terrorist activity is very real,” DeWalt warned. “The community needs to resolve to protect from that, from the change we’re seeing from [advanced persistent threats like Aurora and Stuxnet.]”

Whitelisting is one aspect of the solution, particularly in mobile, that McAfee is supporting. Rather than the traditional blacklisting approach of allowing everything except that which is explicitly prohibited, it’s the option to only allow that which is explicitly allowed. While it’s unwieldy on desktop operating systems like Windows with its millions of files, DeWalt said it’s a very attainable and attractive solution on mobile devices with their smaller and more restricted operating systems. “Whitelisting will change the whole paradigm,” he said.

Another issue on DeWalt’s mind was the fragmented state of the security industry, which he described as more than one thousand vendors with “no standardization.”

“That is not sustainable over the long haul,” he said. “There need to be standards, there needs to be better interoperability. That’s where it’s going and that’s happening a lot faster. Security is begging for a better model.”

That call for consolidation comes against the backdrop of the company’s own purchase by Intel, part of what DeWalt described as an acknowledgement by the chipmaking giant that security is “the third pillar of computing” along with energy-efficient performance and Internet connectivity. sat down with DeWalt and captured some of the CEO’s thoughts on the company’s channel philosophies and opportunities. Please visit the site later in the day on Wednesday for our video interview with DeWalt.