Security Breaches from Loss of Handheld Devices

26 Jul ’05

WaPo has a piece on the growing problem of threats to data security caused by loss of handheld devices. Increasingly, Blackberries and PDAs are repositories of vast amounts of proprietary and personal data. As they become more common, the threat to data security from their loss becomes more significant. Quote:

The ability to carry vast amounts of data in small but easily misplaced items such as computer memory sticks and mobile e-mail devices has transformed the way Americans work, but it has also increased the risk that a forgotten BlackBerry or lost cell phone could amount to a major security breach.

Worried that sensitive information could ride off in the back of a taxicab or be left in a hotel room, companies are peeling back some of the convenience of mobile devices in favor of extra layers of password protection and other restrictions. Some are installing software on their networks to make it impossible to download corporate information to a portable device or a memory stick, which is a plug-in device that holds data for use on other computers. Wireless providers are developing weapons to use against their own products, like digital “neutron bombs” that can wipe out information from long distance so one misplaced device doesn’t translate into corporate disaster.

It’s a nightmare that individuals and corporations fret about when their mobile e-mail or handheld devices go missing or fall into the wrong hands. With the swift stroke of a keypad, someone’s e-mail, corporate data and business contacts can be laid bare for others to see — and potentially abuse.

Personal devices “are carrying incredibly sensitive information,” said Joel Yarmon, who, as technology director for the staff of Sen. Ted Stevens (news, bio, voting record) (R-Alaska), had to scramble over a weekend last month after a colleague lost one of the office’s wireless messaging devices. In this case, the data included “personal phone numbers of leaders of Congress. . . . If that were to leak, that would be very embarrassing,” Yarmon said.

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