Knox on Samsung Galaxy S4: The security solution to embed Android in the enterprise?

When an Android handset like the Samsung Galaxy S4 is unveiled, we scrutinise the device almost solely from a consumer standpoint – and rightly so, it’s unequivocally a device for the mainstream. But the team behind its software will be keener than ever to see the discussion branch out from this realm, and have Android phones analysed in terms of their potential place in the business world.

Android has been strongly typecast as a consumer-only platform, with its open source make-up and propensity to attract security threats preventing it from making great strides in the enterprise. However, one of the lead features demonstrated at the Galaxy S4 launch in New York last night was Samsung Knox, a solution that pre-packs a host of business-friendly features into the UI and promises to make your device slick and secure for use inside and outside the office.

Trumpeted by Samsung at MWC last month, Knox is part of the firm’s SAFE (Samsung For Enterprises) project, and includes functions such as Security Enhanced Android, separating the device into two zones for personal and professional use; Secure Boot, ensuring only verified software can run on the device; TrustZone-based Integrity Measurement Architecture, which defends the kernel, and a selection of other data-protecting features designed to reassure your IT administrator.

The Security Enhanced Android offering appears to be the driving force behind Samsung and Android’s quest for the businessperson’s pocket, and on paper it works very similarly to BlackBerry Balance on BB10. It is clear software designers want to produce systems that take advantage of the BYOD buzz, and like BlackBerry’s creation, Samsung’s system imposes a clear divide between personal and work-based areas of the phone, meaning neither side is compromised by the other, and sensitive data stays secure.

Requiring its own login, Knox safeguards work-related apps, corporate emails, business contacts and other data, running the content in a kind of fortified environment. Samsung says this reduces the threat of tampering and privacy breaches, while any malware that manages to get onto the device will have a harder job infecting the Knox zone. It also supplies its own store of approved services, so the user can download apps with confidence in their reputation and safety.

At the same time, photos, games, media, and apps suited to leisure are kept outside of the work area, allowing the user to enjoy personal aspects of the phone without worrying about their organisation regulating access and content.

Fundamentally, the Knox divide will help companies feel more relaxed about business data passing between home and office networks, as the layers of protection minimise the damage caused if the device is lost or breached.

Business app firm Mubaloo has already surveyed a sample of executives from the enterprise and financial markets to see if Knox could alter perceptions of Android on the corporate side of the user fence, and 30 per cent of respondents said the security platform was beginning to change their view in favour of the OS as a whole.

Samsung and other Android partners will be hoping this figure continues to rise as Knox proliferates across different devices, with Mubaloo’s Head of Android, Scott Alexander-Bown, admitting, "Android security is one of the main questions we get asked by our enterprise clients. Whilst development for Android in Enterprise has increased for Android, the large portion of devices still run on older versions of the OS that lack some of the newer security layers.

“Knox won't fix this as it's only for newer Samsung devices but we anticipate the demand from our customers with BYOD policies to start taking Android more seriously. From a productivity perspective, there are some tricks up Android's sleeves which should attract enterprise customers - especially those that use Google Business services."

As Alexander-Bown points out, the growing array of tools and functions on flagship Android phones can open up new possibilities for employees and add value to organisations. If Samsung can convince enterprises – and, more importantly, regulators with the power to award security accreditation - that these can be used safely, and are more than just consumer gimmicks, then the Galaxy S4 may well spearhead Android’s belated charge into the business sphere.