Your Smartphone Can Be Your Biggest Business Liability

Do a quick search online and you’ll find no shortage of articles out there trying to convince business owners to bring smartphones into the workplace- and with good reason. After all, today most business owners could easily leave the office for a few days with a smartphone in their pocket and never feel like they really left the office.

For better or for worse, you can blame it all on the convergence of several technological advancements in areas such as cloud computing, location-based technology, high resolution touch screen displays, mind-numbing media storage, consumption, and manipulation, and the extensive production and availability of software apps to enhance every kind of business process.

But for all the bells and whistles, smartphones nevertheless have one conspicuously glaring gap: how to protect the data inside a smartphone should the device fall into unscrupulous hands. If you use your phone to check your bank account, update your social media accounts, or make purchases, then you are likely putting some pretty sensitive data on your phone, and currently, all that protects your phone from generously doling out all that information is a simple four-digit pin number.

If you and your employees are toting around smartphones and using them for business purposes, then you can add any sensitive business data to the mix. How big of a business problem is this? Well, in October 2011, McAfee and the Ponemon Institute recently a study called The Lost Smartphone Problem, that attempted to determine percentage of employees’ smartphones that are lost or stolen, as well as the consequences of these lost cell phones. Among the 439 sample organizations, the number of missing smartphones was a whopping 142,708 in one year alone. Of the smartphones that were reported missing, only 9,298, or 7%, were recovered, and despite the fact that 60% of missing smartphones are believed to contain sensitive and confidential information, a total of 57% were not protected with any additional security features.

Incidentally, the total number of cell phones lost or stolen every year in the U.S. is about 30 million, or about 10% of all call phone users. To give you some perspective, only less than a million laptops are reported lost or stolen on a yearly basis.

Though these stats may be sobering, the truth is there are several anti-theft and data protection solutions as well as some best practices tips you can take on to make your phone more safe. Here’s a brief rundown:

  • Check the permissions before installing any new apps on your phone. There have already been scattered reports of malware hiding in innocuous cell phone apps, and more is sure to come.
  • You should also only download apps that come from trusted sources and where possible have a community of users.
  • If your phone includes the option to use full disk encryption, enable it.
  • Make sure you download any updates to your phone’s OS since they typically include a host of security patches.
  • Look into getting a good mobile security app. These tools typically have a variety of anti-theft features. They’ll let you check a lost or stolen phone’s location, lock the phone remotely, wipe or encrypt personal data, even take a picture of the thief. One notable option for Android devices is Android Lost a cool, free app that allows you to control your phone remotely. For iPhone users, there’s the Find My Phone feature that is a part of Apple’s iCloud suite of services.
  • Make sure you also educate your employees about smartphone use best practices, so as to minimize the instances of their devices’ loss or theft.

In short, smart phones may do wonders to your business productivity and ultimately positively affect your bottom line. But make sure you treat it like a valuable asset and do what you can to extend some protection from anything that would compromise it.