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Lost and found: Data protection for mobile

August 01, 2018

You cruise through security, hop in a taxi, and realize you might even be early for that morning meeting. Then, that sinking feeling. Where is your laptop? Did you leave it on the airplane? Or at security? Or, maybe it was lifted right out of your bag somewhere along the way.

For years, IT industry publications have been issuing headlines about the number of mobile devices lost at airports. But airports are not the only trouble spot. Mobile devices can be lost or stolen pretty much anywhere. For example, a new report from UK think tank Parliament Street says that 25,690 mobile devices “were discovered as lost property” on London public transit between April 2017 and 2018. Another recent survey, conducted by California-based electronics accessory vendor Kensington, asked respondents where they experienced IT theft. This survey also pointed to transportation as a hotbed for device loss. The category “Cars and Transportation” took the top spot at 25 percent. In a notable Boston case a few years back in Boston, a Mass General Hospital lost the personal information of 66 patients when an employee left their laptop on the subway.

But the Kensington survey also showed that sometimes theft occurs where you’d least expect it. Surprisingly, the number two response was “The Office” at 23 percent.

How to stop data from falling into the wrong hands

It’s clear that device loss or theft represents a significant security risk to businesses, and these numbers are startling. So, what can IT do to mitigate this risk?

1. First and foremost, employee training is essential. Obviously, most employees will report that a company-issued laptop has gone missing. However, they are much less likely report a lost personal device. This can be problematic if they use that device to access and/or store corporate data. So, it is important to establish guidelines on safe use of personal devices and make sure employees understand them.

If possible, deploy and encourage employees to use onsite or cloud-based shared storage for business data they aren’t currently using. This reduces the amount of business data stored locally on the mobile device, reducing the potential for data loss.

2. Require multi-factor authentication to gain access to corporate assets (email, shared drives) from mobile devices. Multi-factor authentication is a security process that requires multiple forms identification to access business data. Authentication factors typically fall into three categories:

• Knowledge-based: Something the user knows (e.g., a password)

• Possession-based: Something the user carries (e.g., an ID card or token)

• Biometrics-based: Something only the user has (e.g., a fingerprint)

For endpoint devices, one popular approach is to implement a multi-factor authentication app, such as Authy, Okta or Microsoft Authenticator. These apps take advantage of tokens and the biometrics capabilities of smartphones to restrict access to business information whether it is hosted onsite or in the cloud.

3. Deploy endpoint protection software. Most companies today have some kind of server backup solution in place. However, many businesses neglect endpoint protection completely. This can be a dangerous mistake. Choose an endpoint data protection product that takes continuous, automated, policy-based backups. Look for security features such as global location tracking and remote lock or wipe. These features ensure that business data can be easily restored, while protecting it from falling into the wrong hands.

Don’t let business data slip away

No one can guarantee loss or theft won’t occur. But there are strategies and technologies that IT can use to protect and secure endpoint data. Employee training, multi-factor authentication, and endpoint protection can ensure corporate data does not fall into the wrong hands. But don’t wait until a laptop gets stolen. Take these steps now to prevent headaches going forward. 

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