With October being National Cyber Security Awareness Month, there is no better time to ensure the safety and security of the mobile devices within your company or organization. Because of the convenience they offer, smartphones and tablet devices have become a ubiquitous presence in the modern business world. As usage soars, it becomes increasingly important to take steps to protect your company from mobile threats, both new and old.
The need for proper phone security is no different from the need for a well-protected computer network. According to computer security software company McAfee, cyber attacks on mobile devices increased by almost 600 percent from 2011 to 2012 with no signs of slowing down today.
Gone are the days when the most sensitive information on an employee’s phone was contact names and phone numbers. Now a smartphone or tablet can be used to gain access to anything from emails to stored passwords to proprietary company data. Depending on how your organization uses such devices, unauthorized access to the information on a smartphone or tablet could be just as damaging as a data breach involving a more traditional computer system.
Lost or Stolen Devices
Because of their size and the nature of their use, mobile devices are particularly susceptible to being lost or stolen. According to a 2014 study by the Ponemon Institute, 46 percent of organizations experienced a data breach as a result of a lost or stolen mobile device. Since most devices automatically store passwords in their memory to keep users logged in to email and other applications, gaining physical possession of the device is one of the easiest ways for unauthorized users to access private information.
To prevent someone from accessing a lost or stolen device, the phone or tablet should be locked with a password or PIN. The password should be time sensitive, automatically locking the phone out after a short period of inactivity. Most devices come with such security features built in. Depending on your cellphone provider, there are also services that allow you to remotely erase or lock down a device if it is lost or stolen. Similarly, it is possible to program a mobile device to erase all of its stored data after a certain number of login failures.
Mobile devices have the potential to be just as susceptible to malware and viruses as computers, yet many businesses don’t consider instituting the same type of safeguards. Less than 20 percent of mobile devices have antivirus software installed, which is practically an open invitation to a thief or hacker to pillage whatever information they want from an unprotected device. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter what operating system the devices use, whether it be Android, Apple’s iOS, Blackberry or Windows Mobile—all are vulnerable to attacks.
As reliance on these devices continues to grow, so will their attractiveness as potential targets. Third-party applications (apps) are especially threatening as a way for malware to install itself onto a device. These apps can then purchase and install additional apps onto the phone without the user’s permission. Employees should never install unauthorized apps to their company devices. Apps should only be installed directly from trusted sources.
Hackers can use “ransomware” to restrict a user’s access to their device’s data, contacts, etc., and then demand a ransom to get it back. Even if the user pays the ransom, there is no guarantee that they will get the data back. Employees should know not to ever pay the ransom if this type of software finds its way onto a company device.
A big difference between mobile devices and laptops and other computers is the ability to accept open Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals without the user knowing. Hackers can take advantage of this by luring devices to accept connections to a nearby malicious device. Once the device is connected, the hacker can steal information at will. To prevent this, make sure all mobile devices are set to reject open connections without user permission.
While the current mobile device security landscape may look bleak, there are plenty of ways to be proactive about keeping company devices safe from threats.
1. Establish a Mobile Device Policy
Before issuing smartphones or tablets to your e