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If users are a security threat, how do you manage them?

Your problems answered by the experts

Mobile Clinic In our final mobile clinic, The Register's resident experts return to provide their opinions on the questions you've raised.

Question 1: "Argggghhhh. [My biggest problem is] managing the users who keep losing their damned handsets packed full of sensitive email addresses, emails etc. We talk a lot about technology, but aren't the users often the weakest link? What tips do the experts have for dealing with this?"

David Tebbutt, Freeform Dynamics

The reader who raised the above question is absolutely right, once the proper technical measures are in place, security is absolutely a human issue.

But it's no good fighting it. You have to recognise that handhelds will be lost, stolen or broken and plan accordingly.

Let's say that everything on the handheld is encrypted, periodically (and securely) synchronised and corporate access blocked without either the correct credentials or following notification of loss by the user, then all should be well.

But, for it to be well, you need to be sure that the user hasn't taped the password inside the battery cover or disabled the password altogether in order to make life easy for themselves. Freeform Dynamics' research shows that security awareness among users is low to non-existent in 80 per cent of organisations.

How can you raise awareness? Through education. It's no good documenting security policies or usage guidelines without drawing the users' attention to them in a meaningful way. Like, "IT has done all it can to protect you, now it's down to you to protect yourself and the company". I'd be tempted to add an "or else", but that would probably be counterproductive. However, they do need to understand very clearly that a handheld device is potentially a doorway to the organisation's secrets.

They wouldn't leave the office front door open at night. Or, worse, leave the safe open. Why on earth should they make their handhelds an even more dangerous equivalent?

The danger for most IT folk lies in their "but this is obvious" thinking. It isn't. Not to the average user. They'll happily chirp away on the mobile - on a train, for example. We've heard people giving their credit card details on a crowded train. Or they are very likely to leave their Bluetooth in discover mode or their Wi-Fi open.

It wouldn't occur to them that they are exposing their company to an unacceptable risk. They think largely in terms of their own convenience and the value the device brings to them. They want the rights and benefits, but are unaware of the responsibilities that accompany them.

So, we say, get a training programme in place. Either guidelines for small workshops or something more formal on a grander scale. It would be wonderful if a company like Video Arts brought its talents to bear.

The films are usually enjoyable as well as slamming home important messages in a memorable way. The trick is not to weigh the user down with masses of information but simply to get the risk message into their heads and identify the basic measures they should take to protect the company and, in so doing, themselves.

A final and invaluable step is to give them somewhere to go for help and advice. Somewhere on the intranet perhaps, or even a small help file in the device itself. And have an emergency support number to catch them when all else fails.

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