Students and business professionals often rely on their mobile computing devices to enhance their productivity, keep in contact with people, and maintain a competitive edge. These mobile computing devices include laptops, notebooks or mini-laptops, cell phones, and tablet computers.
In the past, one might have carried a briefcase with a carefully chosen collection of important documents. Today, however, a mobile device enables people to carry everything they need in the palm of their hand.
While the benefits of mobile computing are numerous, the drawback is that there are also a wide variety of dangers that plague users of laptops, smartphones and tablets. Dropping a mobile device can lead to serious damage and irretrievable data loss, while hackers can wipe or steal important and confidential information.
In order to make the most of the benefits of the mobile office while mitigating the risks, it is necessary for users on the go to understand the basics of protecting their data.
Proper Handling of Mobile Devices
One of the most common threats facing laptops and other mobile devices is the damage that can occur when they’re dropped. Because laptops typically use hard drives, which depend on moving parts to read and write data, they are particularly vulnerable to damage from falling. The shock that occurs to a hard drive when a laptop falls can cause irreparable damage, resulting in a permanent loss of data whether the laptop is on or off at the time.
Other mobile devices that use solid state data storage media, such as non-volatile RAM or USB memory sticks, may also suffer from data loss due to the physical damage done to the media as a result of the fall. It is always wise to handle an electronic device on a solid surface, like a table, to reduce the risk of a slip or a fall.
Using a cell phone while walking may make one less capable of reacting optimally to an unexpected bump or an unseen obstacle on the ground. Under no circumstances should a user throw or drop the device, even on a soft surface like a bed.
Another potential source of damage to electronic devices is water. Water is capable of shorting out the entire device and rendering it useless. In some cases it can conduct an electric current through a person and cause serious injury. One should never use mobile computing device near a bathtub or too close to a body of water. In addition, it is unwise to use computing devices in the rain, unless under an umbrella.
Backing Up Data
Sometimes data loss is simply unavoidable. Either the storage medium can fall prey to entropy and wears out, or some other unexpected catastrophe can occur. To prevent the loss of one’s work, it is advisable to copy important data to storage media that can be kept in a safe place. The most effective way to back up data is to burn it to high-quality DVDs or Blu-Ray DVDs, and then store said media in a safe location. Another way is to store the data in the cloud, meaning to upload it to an online storage service.
Important data, such as manuscripts, intimate emails, or personal or client information, is a tempting target for identity thieves, hackers, stalkers, the paparazzi, nosey individuals, and competing businesses.
If the information falls into the wrong hands, it can result in any number of misfortunes. These include but are not limited to threats to personal safety, public humiliation, the violation of one’s privacy, significant financial losses, theft of intellectual property, damage to the user’s credit rating, or lawsuits from clients.
To reduce the risks of these disasters, a user can employ encryption to protect their data from access in the event that it falls prey to unauthorized access. Encryption should be used on data that is kept on storage media, as well as while it is being transmitted over networks and the Internet.
Users should never email important data, nor should they transmit it over wired or wireless networks, unless the data is encrypted with strong, complex passwords, using the latest encryption schemes.
Proper Disposal of Obsolete Devices
When a device needs to be retired, replaced, or transferred to someone else, it is important to back up and then securely erase all of the data stored on the device. Merely deleting the data is not enough to prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing the information.
Secure erasure programs exist for practically any storage media, including smartphone SIM cards and memory sticks. SIM cards should be removed from old smartphones and kept in a safe place, unless they can be securely erased. Secure erasure means repeated cycles of both completely deleting all information off storage media and then overwriting it with junk data.
Safeguarding Against Theft
While there is no perfect way to prevent theft, there are ways to make it prohibitively difficult. Mobile computing devices, for instance, should never be left unattended in plain sight. If it is to be left inside a car, it should be put in the car’s trunk or other hidden storage area before one leaves their home.
In the hotel or a home, they should be left in a difficult to find place, preferably a safe or secured a desk with a cable lock. Otherwise, mobile devices should never be left unattended. Furthermore, they should be stored in a bag that is unremarkable, and which does not advertise that the person is carrying expensive goods inside.
It is also advisable to secure the laptop or smartphone with a password so that it is difficult to access in case it is stolen. Using an encrypted filesystem will make it even more difficult to make use of the data. To aid in the recovery of the device, users can install software that “phones home”.
Another option is to turn to an anti-theft service to install their hardware inside the device, which will broadcast the computer’s location via GPS. This option will thwart thieves who try to erase the operating system in order to repurpose the device.
When it comes to mobile computing, the most dangerous threat to one’s data is not thieves, but rather, hackers. Hackers can steal all the important data off a computer without ever physically touching the device, and without ever being noticed.
Hackers attack through the Internet and lay traps in the form of infected web pages or Trojans, which are malware disguised as useful programs. The best defense against hackers is to keep up to date with the latest operating system patches for one’s mobile device, as well as staying away from suspicious websites.
Blocking unknown Bluetooth devices is also an important step to take, as these devices can be vectors for computer viruses or worms. Users should never log into unencrypted wireless networks, as data that travels over these networks are easily intercepted by hackers.
Terms of Service
One of the most overlooked threats to privacy is the Terms of Service (TOS), that come with various software and services that people use. A TOS is a statement of rules which govern how someone may use a given service.
A company may stipulate, for instance, that any data that a user stores on its storage service is subject to monitoring and inspection. This may leave the user vulnerable to theft by an unscrupulous employee. For the sake of protecting the privacy of one’s data, it is necessary to study a service’s TOS thoroughly before subscribing.
A company may also change their TOS at any time. This means that while the TOS stipulated that personal information would not be given to marketers when the user first signed up, the company can later decide to announce a new TOS that says they will be selling information to marketers.
Users should always stay up to date on any TOS changes that occur with services that they use, in order to safeguard their data. It is also advisable to stay current with news events and proactively read up on customer comments. A company may surreptitiously endanger the security and privacy of one’s data without any advance notice whatsoever.