4 Smartphone Security Tips for Mobile Businesses

You’re well aware of your smartphone’s power. But have you considered what might happen to your mobile business if all that power fell into the wrong hands?

Online security firm Symantec recently put that question to the test by deliberately “losing” 50 smartphones in public places. The experiment’s results were, as Symantec puts it, “not encouraging.”

Half of the people who found one of the smartphones made no attempt to return it — and those who did try to find a phone’s rightful owner didn’t do so without first taking a long look at the information stored on the device. In fact, all but two of the lost phones were accessed by the people that found them. They weren’t just innocuously looking for the owner’s ID, either: Some 60 percent of phone finders tried to view social media and email accounts, and a whopping 80 percent tried to open files with names such as “HR salaries” and other business-related information.

Smartphones are the new Wild West of information security, in part because it’s so easy to lose them. Beyond that, there’s a rising tide of mobile malware and other threats out there. Yet many users — including mobile businesses that rely on their devices to accept payments and conduct other daily tasks — don’t take enough precautions against loss or theft.

Here are four security tips for protecting your mobile business and its smartphones:

  1. Use password protection. All smartphones come with password protection or another device-lock feature, yet many owners either disable this tool or use it in a way that anyone could still open the phone. For instance, Mashable notes that one out of every 10 iPhone owners uses “0000” or “1234” as a password. That’s unacceptable. Instead, use strong passwords or swipe-to-unlock combinations; failing to do so makes it too easy for prying eyes to feast upon the phone if it’s lost or stolen.
  2. Install a security app. As the volume of mobile malware and other threats skyrockets, it will be increasingly important to use some type of security software on your devices. This will help patrol for bad stuff happening in the background that you might not otherwise notice. The current wisdom suggests Android devices are especially risky, in part because of the platform’s booming growth. Apps like the popular Lookout Mobile Security offer both free and premium versions.
  3. Set up “remote wipe” capability. If your smartphone holds a lot of valuable business information, consider enabling remote wipe functionality as an insurance policy. This allows you to erase data on your smartphone from a remote location if the device gets lost or stolen. Lifehacker has an easy-to-follow guide that explains how to set up remote wipe on iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone 7 devices.
  4. Don’t download dubious apps. Users that install apps willy-nilly run a higher risk of unwittingly inviting outside threats into their mobile business. Do your homework to minimize the odds of putting malware or other toxic software on your device. Even trusted sources require caution: For instance, Google attempts to keep bad apps out of the Android Market, but it still happens. Do your due diligence — research who made an app, what permissions it requires, and so forth, before downloading it.

About Kevin Casey

Kevin Casey is a regular contributor here, at InformationWeek and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @kevinrcasey.
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