Cell phones are rarely seen as a business threat. In fact, tech evangelists have long been hailing the benefits these little devices bring to the business world, especially when work must be done on the road. But, many companies are learning that the use of smartphones among employees can pose a number of risks, from identity and data theft to personal harassment.
As smartphones become increasingly prevalent in both our personal and professional lives, it’s important for small business owners to keep the following risks in mind to reduce the chances of harming their business.
Malware and hacked information. Smartphones can be a one-stop shop for hackers looking to land insider information. Not only can unscrupulous individuals gain access to classified material, but they can also use that information to steal customer identities, banking information, passwords, and anything else stored on the mobile devices
Lost or stolen phones. Phones are small and are easy to misplace or have stolen in a moment of inattention. In addition to replacement costs, lost, stolen and ‘borrowed’ phones carry the risk of information theft. Abusers may use your accounts, address lists, photos, and more to scam, harm or embarrass you or your friends, they may leverage stored passwords to access and steal your money or run up charges, gain access to sensitive data.
Mixing personal and business. Employees can sometimes take advantage of company-provided technology, using devices to conduct personal business. In rare cases, company security may be at risk, which is why many businesses have implemented policies allowing them to access employee communications, whether they are emails, voice mails, or even text messages.
Liabilities on the road. Corporate policy should state that cell phones not be used behind the wheel, or that traveling employees must use a Bluetooth hands-free headset when driving. In 2011, the Department of Transportation ruled that commercial truck drivers and bus drivers are prohibited from using a handheld mobile device when driving. Breaking this rule could mean trouble for the company employing the violating driver.
What’s more, any employee traveling for work that causes an accident due to talking or texting while driving could pose a risk to their employer. It’s best to have a corporate policy in place prohibiting handheld cell phone use when driving, and encourage hands-free devices when absolutely necessary.
Textual Harassment.“Textual harassment” is a new term quickly finding prominence in the workplace. Sexual harassment is a serious issue in the workforce, with employers always taking steps to prevent it, but cell phones have added a new means of harassment that previously didn’t exist.
A business can get into trouble if a case of sexual harassment isn’t dealt with swiftly, so update handbook policies to extend to cell phone use. This should cover all methods of cellular harassment, including lewd texts, inappropriate images, and harassing phone calls.
Tips to Secure Your Smartphones for Business Use
As mentioned above, it is imperative that small business owners establish best practices and create policies governing how employees should use their smartphones while on the job. In some cases, this may extend to personal usage as well. Business policy on mobile devices should include most if not all of the following tips:
- Update your hardware. Smartphones need to be updated with some regularity as security fixes are developed.
- Install security software. Security software, including encryption and virus protection products, is a must for smartphone users. The mobile malware market is booming -and because few users protect these devices they are particularly attractive to hackers and cybercriminals. Many of these programs can also locate a missing or stolen phone, will back up your data, and even remotely wipe all data from the phone if it is reported stolen.
- Use a secure PIN. Be conscious of where you place your phone and always secure it with a unique PIN or password – not the default it came with. Then don’t share your PIN or password with others.
- Surf safely. Think before you click, download, forward, or open. No matter how tempting the application, if the download isn’t from an app store or the site of a trusted company, walk away. Moreover, some applications claim extensive rights to accessing and leveraging your personal information. Walk away if the app wants more access than is needed to run their service.
- Shut out unknown Bluetooth devices. Have you ever been in a public place and found that your phone’s Bluetooth was trying to connect to an unknown device nearby? Bluetooth devices create a personal area network, and like any network, it will recognize appropriate devices within its range. This can open the door to hackers and malware.
- Use open WiFi networks with caution. Many smartphone users use free WiFi hotspots to access data, but you cannot know if that network is safe or compromised so avoid logging into accounts, especially financial accounts when using public wireless networks. Users should be aware that when they join an open WiFi network, nearby eavesdroppers may be able to see the data they send and receive, such as email.