Preventing Data Loss When You're Mobile

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You love the convenience of having information at your fingertips, whether it’s via your smartphone, laptop, or the USB stick hanging off your keychain. But that convenience also carries risks.

Among the biggest threats facing business travelers today is the loss of data through portable devices. And it could mean huge losses for your company. The Ponemon Institute research organization predicts the value of an average data breach could exceed $10 million, usually caused by theft or loss of a laptop or storage device. Not to mention you’d likely lose your job, reputation and perhaps a legal battle if you were the one responsible for the security violation.

“A device can be left behind or stolen, so you must make sure you’re safeguarding your information and have backups of important files,” cautions Michael Gartenberg, vice president of mobile strategy for Jupitermedia, a leading technology information company headquartered in New York City.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can work to secure portable devices.

Encryption
The first order of business is to password-protect your data.

“The value of the information on these devices may be far more valuable to you than the cost for the devices themselves,” explains Gartenberg. “So the simplest thing you can do on phones and laptops is enable them with passwords.”

Encrypting files and folders is a free option within most versions of Windows. (For example, in Windows Explorer, right-click on a Word document and select “Encrypt contents to secure data” under the Properties tab) Alternatively, free software, including PKWare’s SecureZip, is available.

“Even better, if your company has migrated notebook computers to Windows Vista in 2008 and is covered under the Enterprise Assurance program, Microsoft provides BitLocker for full drive encryption at no cost,” advises Adam Hils, principal research analyst for security, privacy, and risk at the Gartner information technology research and advisory company.

Although doing so can be a pain for users, smartphones — such as the BlackBerry or iPhone — can be locked until a password is typed in.

A handful of USB drives, such as the SanDisk Cruzer Titanium line, also offer optional encryption of stored files as part of bundled U3 software.

Less is more
In order to reduce risk, some analysts believe you should limit how much data you bring along with you.

“Users and companies must insure that whatever they carry in storage-bearing devices must be minimal,” says David Daoud, with IDC’s personal computing, PC trackers, and green IT programs. IDC is a global provider of market intelligence for the IT industry. The Framingham, Mass. -based analyst says some companies even restrict how much data their employees can tote around. “This is because if the USB drive or the smartphone are stolen or lost, you have to assume that the data in it will be accessible. For companies that take data security seriously, there are technologies that they can deploy to monitor the movement of data in and out of the device.”

Some phones and computers can also be wiped remotely in case the handset is lost or stolen. GadgetTrack Mobile Security software offers this service on supported handsets running Windows Mobile and BlackBerry operating systems. For PCs, products such as CompuTrace Data Protection can remotely wipe a laptop’s drive clean.

Although it also comes with its own risks, working in the cloud might be a good idea if you’re a frequent business traveler, says Daoud. “The best advice is to have some centralized storage system at home or in the office where all the critical data is stored and secured

Marc Saltzman is a freelance journalist and author based in Toronto. He specializes in consumer and tech topics, including Internet trends, computers, mobility, electronic gadgets, and video games.

Image credit: Emin Ozkan

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