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Mobile Clinic: How do you make mobile data secure?

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Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

Mobile Clinic We asked and you responded in kind with the key issues you're facing with mobilising your workforce. Below, we've got three industry experts - all of whom have racked up more years in the mobile world than most of us have had hot dinners - who are trying to give you some pointers on nailing this stuff.

We'll be tackling another handful of your questions over the coming weeks. Hopefully you'll find it all useful. But as ever feel free to chip in your viewpoints below.

Question 1: With so much data sitting out on mobile devices across the organisation how we do deal with the security and integrity of this data?

Dale Vile, Research Director, Freeform Dynamics Ltd
www.freeformdynamics.com

The question how to protect the security of information held on mobile devices is a very interesting one, and we hear it come up all the time in our research and consulting activities.

The irony is, however, that while people are stressing themselves over the need to secure resident data on handhelds, they are often turning a blind eye to a huge vulnerability that already exists. I am talking here about the fact that users have been running around for a decade with sensitive and private business information on a device that it would take an averagely competent technician a matter of minutes to extract all the data from – the laptop/notebook PC.

I mention this not because I expect organisations to deal with the notebook PC data vulnerability problem in a hurry from a technical point of view (even though solutions for policy management, lock-down and local data encryption are becoming more capable and practical), or because poor notebook security is an excuse to ignore the problem on handhelds.

The point is that it is important to keep things in perspective and think about the mobile security problem a bit more holistically. And if you look at it in terms of risk mitigation, then an important starting point for any mobile security planning or review exercise is gaining an understanding of the nature of the risks we are trying to manage.

As soon as you start to do this, the "user factor" comes into sharp focus and you begin to realise that one of the biggest sources of risk with regard to mobile data security is human behaviour. Whether due to poor attitude or ignorance (rarely malice), users by default will do all kinds of "stupid" things that create much bigger security holes than the theoretical vulnerabilities at a technology level that IT departments spend so much time worrying about.

This is something we explored in a recent research study, during which we found a high degree of correlation between organisations that instruct their users on security matters and the degree to which they trust the workforce to behave responsibly and appropriately. Put simply, there is very clear evidence that mobile security risks can be reduced significantly through end user training.

Pulling all this together, the golden rule when tackling any aspect of mobile security is, therefore, not to consider it in isolation – context is very important to both understand and deal with the risks. But can we net this out to some general advice? Well, rather than me saying it, I would like to finish with a quotation from a Reg reader who summed it up pretty well during one of our online workshop sessions a while back:

But what are the options for managing [mobile security]?

  • Make good decisions in the first place – infrastructure, devices and deployment
  • Keep things centralised - you gotta be able to control things
  • Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt
  • Hammer home the implications and make it clear where accountability lies

For more discussion on this whole area, I encourage you to download the Secure Mobile Working report available in the Reg research library here.

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