More and more businesses are providing employees with laptops, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and cell phones for speed, convenience and mobility of communication. The benefits can be enormous, particularly for business travelers. So can the security risks, if proper precautions are not taken.
Before handing out these high-tech communication tools, the Better Business Bureau advises businesses to instruct employees how to protect the security of data that is being transmitted or stored. The following guidelines may prove helpful:
- Always keep your laptop, PDA or cell phone within sight, even when at the office. Lock your business cell phone and PDA in a secure location when not in use.
- Keep your portable device within eyesight and easy reach when traveling. Stealing laptops at airports and from trains and restaurants has become a popular data theft technique.
- If at all possible, do not store any sensitive customer or employee data (such as bank account numbers, ATM codes, Social Security numbers and credit/debit card info) on these portable devices.
- If any employee (a salesperson or telecommuter, for instance) needs to take customer data, employee date or other sensitive information off business premises on a laptop, CD, flash drive or other portable device, insist and make certain that the data is encrypted.
- Password-protect access to the laptop, DA and cell phone. Also make use of passwords to protect Internet access, e-mail, voicemail and address books.
- Turn off the devices when not in use.
- Do not download or accept file downloads from unknown sources.
- Do not share portable communication/organization tools with others.
- Back up all data regularly and keep back-up disks and other back-up materials in a locked, secure area.
A final word of caution from the BBB: Do not assume that laptops are the only devices that can be hacked into. Criminals can hack into cell phones and steal stored files, contacts and voice mails. Viruses can also significantly disrupt cell phones. Cell phone owners should check with their providers regularly for updates on security features to make certain they have configured their settings for maximum security.
These and other guidelines to help businesses protect customer data are included in a toolkit, Security and Privacy - Made Simpler™, developed by the BBB and available for free download at www.bbb.org.