Careless PDA users threaten corporate security

More people are using PDAs for keeping business data, increasing the security problems faced by corporates, according to the second annual PDA Usage Survey
Written by Munir Kotadia, Contributor

Billions of pounds continue to be wasted each year on corporate security that is easily bypassed because so many employees leave unprotected passwords and corporate information on their personal digital assistants (PDAs), according to a recent survey.

The second annual PDA Usage Survey, which was carried out on behalf of Pointsec Mobile Technologies, has discovered that a third of PDA owners store work passwords and cash machine PIN numbers on their PDAs, but do not secure access to their PDA in case the device is stolen or lost.

The survey also highlighted that the role of PDAs has changed in the past year. Whereas in 2002 their main use was as a personal organiser, this year the top function is as a business diary.

Magnus Ahlberg, the managing director of Pointsec, is worried because PDA users are not aware of the "serious implications" that arise if a device is lost or stolen. "It takes merely seconds to synchronise information from a PDA if it is unencrypted and not password protected. Alternatively, with the development of wireless technology, a competitor or hacker could sit in the coffee bar next to your office and get access directly into your corporate network," he said in a statement.

According to the survey, around 40 percent of people have lost a mobile phone and one in four people have lost a laptop or PDA. This is worrying because only around 25 percent of companies have specific security policies for mobile devices. This makes them an obvious target for thieves, opportunists, hackers and even competitors.

If an opportunist came across a PDA containing corporate data that wasn't encrypted, it would be "relatively easy" for that person to assume the identity of the user, according to the survey.

Around 20 percent of missing PDAs are left in a pub, restaurant or nightclub; but the biggest threat is the back of a taxi, where 40 percent of lost devices end up.

According to the survey, the top 10 uses for a PDA in 2003 are:

  1. Business diary 85 percent
  2. Business names and addresses 80 percent
  3. Personal names and addresses 79 percent
  4. Personal diary 75 percent
  5. Entertainment -- games & music 48 percent
  6. Documents/spreadsheets 35 percent
  7. Store passwords/PIN numbers 33 percent
  8. Receive and view emails 32 percent
  9. Store bank account details 25 percent
  10. Store corporate information 25 percent

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