We don’t work the way we used to.
There was a time when we arose in the morning, brewed our first cup of coffee, got in the car, and headed to the office. We would listen to the radio and mutter complaints about the traffic. Maybe we’d give the guy in front of us a few bursts of the horn when he stalled at the lights. Then, when we finally arrived at the office, we would go to our desks, fire up our desktop computers, and get down to business.
Sometimes, we like to give it that Don Draper gloss in our memories, but those were the dark days before technology liberated us.
We’re not chained to our desks anymore. We now have smartphones, laptops, and tablets. We can work remotely from coffee shops, hotel rooms, and even our homes — growing our businesses wherever we go. The downside: The probability of our mobile devices with proprietary information on them being lost or stolen is rising.
You turn your back for a moment to use the restroom or order another skinny latte, and when you come back, your laptop is gone. Not only are you out a serious piece of equipment, but your data is also at risk in a number of ways.
What are the dangers of BYOD?
Here are just a few scenarios to show you where things can go wrong and what you can lose:
- Product updates: Think of the poor guy at Apple who went out for a few beers and left an iPhone 4 prototype in a Redwood City, California bar. In that case, it was a tangible object, but imagine you run a software company that’s developing a patent-pending algorithm for image compression. Imagine now that the patent application is accessible from your stolen laptop — you’re in huge trouble.
- Nondisclosure agreements: You’ve been working with an outside firm for years. It’s one of your best clients, and you’ve built up a strong relationship. Only now, because its proprietary information stored on your stolen laptop is readily accessible, a lawsuit is headed your way. You’ve broken those bonds of trust and fidelity that you spent years nurturing. Can your business handle the hit to its reputation?
- Employee privacy: Your human resources director is on her way home from the office. She stops for gas, leaves her laptop on the front seat — and somebody takes it. Suddenly, all those confidential employee health benefit records are in the wrong hands, and you’re liable for breach of HIPAA regulations. It may seem implausible, but ask the guys at NASA what I’m talking about.
- Financial information: This last one is perhaps the most obvious. It’s the reason all of our spam folders are filled with phishing Nigerian princes and kings. A little financial information can go a long way.
How can you protect yourself?
Ten years ago, the Internet was a different place. Now, people don’t have to be genius hackers or on the FBI’s “most wanted” list to be able to take someone’s stolen info and put it to use. So how can we mitigate the risks? Here are four simple solutions:
#1. Virtual private networks
These weren’t invented so expatriates and foreigners could watch their favorite TV shows on Hulu and Netflix. A VPN is a powerful tool in the fight against data theft. Not only does it mean that we don’t need to store sensitive data on all of our devices, but it also provides that extra level of encryption when we connect to the kind of unsecured wireless networks found in every coffee shop in America.
#2. HTML5 viewers
This goes hand-in-hand with the VPN. The fewer documents that are stored on your laptop, the less vulnerable you are. With one of these programs installed, you can view, edit, and print documents of multiple formats on any device in the world using only your browser. It’s safe, it’s secure, and it’s convenient.
#3. Redaction features
A new client in Canada wants a face-to-face meeting. You pack all that you’ll need in your carry-on suitcase, then get busy layering correctly for the cold. The virtual private network is your base layer. The HTML5 viewer is your thickest sweater. Redaction is the goose down jacket that everybody sees.
Somebody steals your iPad and gains access to one of the documents you’ve saved for working offline. But half of it’s blacked out. All sensitive information has already been redacted, and the original document is left untouched on your server back at the office.
Your documents have fallen into the wrong hands. The watermark ensures they’re not misrepresented — either altered misleadingly or passed off as the work of somebody else.
With these four simple strategies in place, your work is a little bit safer — but mistakes are sometimes made, and we all have to live with them.
What do you do when your device gets stolen?
It’s important to act quickly. If you have device-tracking software, it’s imperative to switch it on immediately. The sooner your device is recovered, the less likely it is that any data will be stolen.
You should also be prepared to contact any and all customers who might be impacted by the stolen data. The bonds between our clients and us are built on mutual trust. While that trust may take a hit if we lose some of their data, it gets a lot worse when we try to cover it up and inevitably fail.
Everybody needs to take the necessary precautions, but we must also encourage everyone to speak up when we suffer a breach. It’s important to have procedures in place to ensure that thefts are reported as quickly as possible.
Consider this: A company credit card goes missing. It falls out of somebody’s pocket and gets lodged in his seat on an airplane. On the next flight, it digs into the next occupant’s leg. That person roots around and finds it. He thinks he’ll have some fun at his destination, but by the time the wheels touch the ground, the card has already been cancelled.
We all understand the risks associated with a lost credit card. We all report lost cards immediately. It’s important to get our employees thinking the same way about laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
When something gets stolen or lost, every second counts in ensuring our data is safe. So keep an eye on your devices and follow the necessary steps to make sure your data is secure — no matter what happens.
Images: “Computer hacker wearing mask stealing data on laptop computer/Shutterstock.com“
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