Crisis Prevention: Password-Protecting Your Mobile Device

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    What type of highly confidential information do you store on your mobile device? Contacts who would hate to see their information shared with spammers or identity thefts? Passwords? Photos or videos you or others wouldn’t appreciate appearing on YouTube? Text messages flirting with someone who isn’t your spouse?

    It’s an odd quirk of human behavior that we will put certain types of information under lock and key and password at home or office, but then make the same information easily accessible to anyone who steals (or finds) our phone or other mobile devices. I have helped more than one organization respond to crisis prevention that originated with such thefts. And while some types of crises aren’t preventable, these situations are, usually employing simple-to-implement measures.

    Take my Blackberry Tour, for example. By using the built-in password protection system, I can prevent access to the phone and my data. If someone fails to enter the correct password a preset number of times, all my data is wiped! I can restore it 100% from my corporate Enterprise server (and even a private Blackberry user could restore it from their backup), but a thief could not unless he/she could quickly guess my password. Are there hacks around this system? Probably. But most thieves wouldn’t have that level of sophistication. I set up my Blackberry so that it defaults to “password required” mode if it has been turned off or if haven’t used it in an hour, but there are other options. Even if the device is in password-protected mode, it can receive incoming phone calls and can be used for one type of outgoing phone call – to emergency services (911 in the United States). While it sounds like a pain in the ___ to enter a password first, I became very fast at doing so with just a little practice.

    There are built-in and/or inexpensively purchased protection systems of this sort for literally every type of mobile device. Is entering a password a slightly time-delaying pain in the ass? Sure. But it doesn’t cause nearly as much pain as dealing with the aftermath of stolen confidential data.

    I recommend strongly that every organization whose employees use their mobile devices for business purposes require that those devices have some means of protecting confidential information in the event of theft or loss.

    Comic Postscript: I know how well my Blackberry’s protection system works because, shortly after getting this phone, I forgot the password I’d set up. I knew my data would be wiped if I kept misentering, so I called for tech help with one password try left to see if there was a workaround. I was told no, the system is hard-wired for the protection of the owner. So I tried one more time and *POOF*, all my data went bye-bye.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]