Nov 25, 2011

Even after NOTW phone hacking news most cell users don't use a PIN to lock their devices. How do you make sure employees do?

We all keep lots of things on our smartphones that we probably would like to keep secure. Just ask Scarlet Johansson or any of the people who had their voicemail hacked by News of the World "journalists". It's one thing when it is something personal (even very, very personal), but it is far worse from my professional standpoint when it is corporate data. A recent survey from Confident Technologies (see http://www.informationweek.com/blog/mobility/231700155 ) suggests that 65% of smartphones have corporate data on their phones, while only 10% of those phones are actually provided by their employer. Ok, that's one thing, but when you combine it with the stat that less than 50% of users bother to password protect their smartphones, it becomes an area of concern. Beyond telling people to use a password on their smartphones (yeah, sure that will work), how can employees be actually convinced of how important these basic security steps are?


I think a big part of the problem is that many people just do what they want, no matter the corporate policy.  It is human nature to minimize appreciation of risk, with the implicit assumption being more or less that bad things happen to other people.  If you happen to live in a state without motorcycle helmet law, just look at the number of people that ride without any protective gear.  I've actually worked with a guy that crashed his bike and spent time in ICU who then made fun of me for wearing a helmet, asking me whether I was planning to crash and that if I was afraid of motorcycles maybe I shouldn't ride them.  The funny thing about that is I actually race sportbikes at the amateur level, while he just rides a cruiser around town, and I've walked away from a high speed get off.  Like I said, it's human nature to deny risk instead of managing them.  If ICU can't teach people about risk mitigation, it's a good bet that a corporate memo outlining security risks of smartphones is going to fall on deaf ears.


It might still be worth a shot to send out a memo reminding people of all the recent phone hacking scandals, and perhaps establishing a zero tolerance policy for employees leaving their smartphones unprotected if they are used for work related purposes.  Even if there is no practical way to enforce it, perhaps it would get a few more employees to take basic security measures.  

Perhaps the best way is for the company to issue the smartphone. That way it could be sure that any phones in use will be set up properly for security. Failing that, I am not sure how a company would be able to properly monitor phones that were brought in by employees. I suppose they could require a security check on personal phones, but that could be intrusive.
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