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Slack security on PDAs is making life easier for would-be fraudsters and hi-tech criminals.

A third of employees are leaving business information and access details unprotected on their PDAs, according to a survey commissioned by access control firm Pointsec Mobile Technologies, published today.

The PDA Usage Survey 2003 found that PDA owners commonly download the entire contents of their personal and business lives onto their handheld computers. Many leave the information unencrypted and without password protection, the survey found.

Sensitive information commonly stored unprotected on PDAs includes corporate information, bank accounts, credit cards, social security numbers, inland revenue information, business and personal names and addresses.

A third of respondents to the survey admitted they even stored their personal passwords and PIN numbers without using the PDA's password function to protect this information.

This slack security looks even more ill-advised when we consider how easy it is to lose a handheld computer.

More than 40 per cent of people have lost a mobile phone and a quarter have lost a laptop or PDA or both. Despite this almost half the people quizzed in the survey don't bother insuring their PDA and only two per cent insure the information held on them.

According to Pointec's survey, the most notorious place for losing a mobile device such as a phone, laptop or PDA is a taxi (40 per cent) closely followed by bars, restaurants and nightclubs (20 per cent).

Given access to sensitive personal information, crooks can run up credit card bills and obtain loans in a victim's name. These kinds of identity theft crimes are a growing problem.

According to Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes, ID fraud costs the country more than £1.3 billion every year and takes the average victim of identity theft 300 hours to put their records straight.

To combat this, the Home Office has announced plans to introduce laws that will make it an offence to obtain identification documents in another person's name. At present, this practice would be a crime only if a personal used these documents for fraudulent purposes.

Corporate risks

And it's not just ID thieves who might benefit from the details carelessly left on lost and stolen PDAs. This information could be a boon for would-be corporate crackers too.

According to Pointsec's survey, 41 per cent of people are using their PDA to access their corporate network with a quarter of them bypassing the password function. More than half (57 per cent) do not encrypt the corporate data held on their PDA. This makes it relatively easy for an unauthorised person to use the PDA to access a corporate network and assume the identity of the user, Pointsec notes.

"The survey shows that people are now clearly using their PDAs as a business tool, but are unaware of the serious implications should their PDA end up in the wrong hands," said Magnus Ahlberg, Managing Director of Pointsec Mobile Technologies. "It takes merely seconds to synchronise information from a PDA using a laptop or PC if it is unencrypted and not password protected."

Pointec's survey, now in its second year, shows there has been a shift in the last 12 months from people primarily using their PDA as a personal organiser to using it as a business tool.

The top function for a PDA in 2003 is as a business diary compared with the top function in 2002 being to store personal names and addresses.

Pointec's PDA Usage Survey was conducted by quizzing 283 PDA owners about the use of their devices and attitudes to security. One third of those quizzed gave their job function as either IT manager or IT director. ®

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