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March 20th, 2012

The Latest Threat To Your Mobile Phone: Your Employer

The RSA Conference – the largest gathering of security vendors and the companies who buy their products – was held in San Francisco last month. Avast was in attendance, and I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on mobile security. Mobile security was also one of the top topics permeating the entire event. What I heard on the panel and throughout the conference, and what has been reinforced from my discussions with analysts and consultants to businesses, should have you all pretty worried.

The good news is that businesses want to embrace employees use of mobile phones and tablets. And it’s not just the biggest companies doing so: even small businesses are eager adopters of mobile technologies. After all, employees are more accessible and more productive when they can use their mobile devices for work. However, these are your devices; they are not the company’s and shouldn’t be treated as such. And that’s the challenge.

Businesses have legitimate concerns that these devices are inherently insecure, and that consumers don’t always secure their devices to the same level businesses do their PCs. They are also concerned about all the corporate data that these devices contain or can access, and that their loss or theft can compromise a company. And they are concerned that people will misuse their access to this data now that it’s on their person device.

The problem is that businesses want more security and control over your phone then they should have or even need: even more control than they have over the PCs they provide you.

  • Because there are malicious apps, they want to keep a catalog of every app you install and be able to remove those applications without prior notice to you.
  • Because mobile devices can hold private corporate data, they want the ability to wipe all data on your phone, also without prior notice to you.
  • Because you could potentially misuse the phone by transferring corporate data between a business app (like email) and a personal app (like Facebook), they want to be able to monitor everything you do on that phone: your call logs, your text messages, all your social networking activity, all your browsing activity.

This blatant company disregard for employees’ privacy and property all in the name of security has gotten completely out of hand. One product that was given prominent attention at the conference basically rooted your device to put a monitoring and management layer underneath the operating system. Besides taking any semblance of control of your device away from you, this procedure would likely lead to voiding the warranty for many of your devices, especially Apple devices.

Using your mobile devices for work purposes should not require you giving up all your privacy rights or giving your company effective ownership of your device, without having to pay for it. If your company is letting you use your phone or tablet for work purposes, especially if it’s for more than email, then you should take a close look at your organization’s mobile policies – not just for what you should or should not be doing, but for what your company could be doing.

  • Tech

    Fully agree with: “Using your mobile devices for work purposes should not require you giving up all your privacy rights or giving your company effective ownership of your device”.
    If you have a monitored phone, well, take care and sorry you :)