Is Today's Biggest Security Threat Hiding in Your Pocket?

The next big security risk could be as close as your hip holster — Is your mobile device protected?

Are you carrying around a bull’s-eye for hackers?

Small business IT security has generally focused on servers, laptops and desktops. But with the speedy rise of smartphone technology, the next big threat could be inside your hip holster.

Boosting Awareness

When using a PC, most people take security precautions, like being careful about what they download, changing passwords regularly and not giving

strangers administrative access. However, when it comes to smartphones, they could be skipping the same types of security strategies that keep them safe in the workplace.

Risks to mobile devices abound, especially since they can be stolen or lost so easily. According to a report from security firm McAfee and Carnegie Mellon University, risky behaviors that weaken security are commonplace these days.

Fewer than half of device users back up their mobile data more than once a week, the report finds. Even more alarming, about 50 percent of device users keep passwords, PIN codes and credit-card details right on their devices. One in three users keeps sensitive, work-related information on their devices, which could lead to data breaches.

Although 95 percent of companies have policies in place to increase mobile security, only about a third of employees actually follow them.

State of Security

As a result of lax security on the part of mobile users, the number of attacks has skyrocketed. Security incidents doubled between 2010 and 2011, and experts believe the problem is getting even worse. That’s cause for concern, since many companies have come to rely on mobile devices for staying in touch with customers and keeping employees connected.

Security issues can crop up with devices that haven’t been properly updated with the latest security patches. Also, hackers are increasingly using malicious apps, which promise games or business software to users, but can steal information from a mobile device once they’re downloaded.

Experts believe that hackers are gearing up to exploit mobile payment options as well, since they can gain access to banking information through those apps.

A Strong Defense

Defending against threats requires a working strategy (not just a mobile security policy) that raises awareness within the company and establishes strong protections. Taking these steps is a great start:

  • Make sure employees don't download malicious apps from third-party app stores or unsecured app repositories, which tend to interfere with device operations very soon after download. (Two telltale signs of infection: The device slows down, or can't synchronize with other devices.)
  • Double-check that employees apply the latest software patches or, better yet, ensure that their devices are set for automatic software updates. These options are available in your phone’s Settings menu.
  • Seek out and evaluate applications from the growing mobile security- software field. Most options you’ll find are quite affordable.

The state of security in the mobile realm can be alarming, but you don’t have to put your company at risk. Get rid of the bull’s-eye, and hackers will find another target instead.

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