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Top 10 Mobile Device Privacy Policies

People are storing more types of confidential information on mobile computing devices, and an expert in the field tells you how to keep it all under wraps.

Rebecca Herold is an information privacy, security, and compliance consultant, author, and instructor. She is the founder of and principal consultant at Rebecca Herold & Associates.

People are storing more types of confidential information on mobile computing devices than their employers or they themselves know. Think about where you keep your credit card and bank account numbers, passwords, and confidential e-mails. What about strategic information about your organization? Merger or takeover plans? Information that could impact stock values?

Imagine the business impact if an employee's USB drive or laptop was lost or stolen, revealing sensitive customer data such as credit reports, social security numbers, and contact information. Not only would this be a public relations disaster, but it could also violate laws and regulations. Consider the potential legal troubles for a public company whose sales reports, employee records, or expansion plans fell into the wrong hands.

The ideal solution would be to prohibit all confidential data from being stored on mobile devices, but this isn't always practical. You can, however, reduce the risk that confidential information will be accessed from lost or stolen mobile devices through these 10 steps:

  • 1) Determine whether your organization needs to use mobile computing devices at all, based on their risks and benefits within your specific company, industry, and regulatory environment.

  • 2) Implement additional security technologies, chosen to fit both your organization and the types of devices used. Most (and perhaps all) mobile computing devices will need to have their native security augmented with such tools as strong encryption, device passwords, and physical locks. Biometrics are increasingly being used for authentication and encryption and have great potential to eliminate the challenges associated with passwords.

  • 3) Standardize the mobile computing devices and the associated security tools being used with them. Security deteriorates quickly as the tools and devices used become increasingly disparate.

  • 4) Develop a specific framework for using mobile computing devices, including guidelines for syncing, the use of firewalls and anti-malware software, and the types of information that can be stored on them.

  • 5) Centralize management of your mobile computing devices. Maintain an inventory so that you know who's using what kinds of devices.

  • 6) Establish patching procedures for software on mobile devices. This can often be simplified by integrating patching with syncing, or patch management with the centralized inventory database.

  • 7) Label the devices and register them with a service such as StuffBak or Absolute Software's Computrace, which help return recovered devices to owners. A 2004 Gartner study reported that a company with 5,000 or more employees could save $300,000 to $500,000 annually by tagging, tracking, and recovering mobile phones and PDAs.

  • 8) Establish procedures to disable remote access for any mobile devices reported as lost or stolen. Many devices allow users to store usernames and passwords for Web site portals, which could allow a thief to access even more information than on the device itself.

  • 9) Remove data from computing devices that aren't in use. Many incidents have occurred through people obtaining "old" computing devices that still had confidential company data. For example, in 2003 a BlackBerry that reportedly belonged to a Morgan Stanley employee sold on eBay for $15.50. The buyer discovered it contained hundreds of e-mails, including confidential information about both the company and the employee.

  • 10) Provide training to personnel using mobile devices. People can't be expected to appropriately secure their information if they haven't been told how.

Send comments to editor@ITarchitectmag.com.

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