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SECURITY

Lost a Smartphone? Track It and Erase Data

These days, a lost smart phone is not just a shame. It’s a potential nightmare for a business. That phone may have confidential data about customers, partners, or your company stored on it in e-mail, text messages, the address book, or the notebook function. Protect your business's data, remotely, with wireless technology.
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The unfortunate reality for those who lose a smartphone is the cost to replace the hardware should be the least of your worries. Rather, the data that resides on the smartphone -- including potentially sensitive information about your company's plans, sales, and customers -- isn't something you want falling into the wrong hands.

"Organizations have been hearing a lot about the threat of mobile security breaches. However different from PCs, the threat on mobile isn't the compromise of the device itself to be taken over and used for malicious ends, it's the data that resides on these devices that should be the critical area of focus for organizations," says Chris Silva, executive vice president for research and service delivery at IANS, a Boston Mass.-based IT research company.

"Therefore, the threat of viruses and malware, while still nascent and therefore not an area of intense focus, is not where most organizations should be focused. Rather, their sights should be set on how to protect the data on devices such as customer information, e-mails, contact details, and other sensitive information," adds Silva.

Locking a smartphone with a password isn't enough. Instead, many vendors, and third-party software developers, are offering ways to remotely wipe the data from lost or stolen smartphone.

"The way it's done is a small packet of data is sent down to the device's firmware, remotely, that will start to scrub the device of its information," explains Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at the Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner research and consulting group. "Most consumers could probably care less about this, but it's incredibly important for businesses to have a remote wipe feature in place for its employee's phones."

Using GPS and/or cellular triangulation, you might also be able to track a missing phone -- say, if you left it at a nearby restaurant after a business lunch -- or if stolen, the information could be given to the authorities to pursue.

Whether you use a BlackBerry, iPhone, or Windows device, here's a look at the offerings (and cost) of what's available today:

iPhone

Apple's MobileMe service ($99/year), which synchronizes all of your information between Apple devices -- such as e-mail, contacts, and calendars -- can also be used to remotely lock, wipe, or locate a lost or stolen iPhone.

When you realize your phone is missing, the first step is to log into your MobileMe account on a computer and remotely set a four-digit passcode lock to prevent anyone from using it.

Then, you can have it ring (in case you left it under a pile of clothes), type a text message that appears on the iPhone's screen (e.g. "Please call me if found") or you might want to locate the phone on a map.

If this, too, proves unsuccessful, you might want to remotely wipe the iPhone's data, which is also an option once logged into your MobileMe account. Or you can do this through a Microsoft Exchange Server wipe command, too.

Windows Phones

Designed for Windows Mobile 6.0 phones (and newer), Microsoft's My Phone (free) offers a number of handy features including automatic back-ups of your phone's info (such as contacts, e-mails, and text messages) and the ability to access it all online.

Once you sign up for the service, you can erase your phone if it is missing by sending a command to restore the device to its original factory settings. My Phone can also find your lost phone by pinpointing the last location it was synchronized.

Many phones -- including the upcoming Windows Phone 7 devices -- will have My Phone already bundled on the phone but it's also available as a free download.

BlackBerry

There are a few free third-party tools available for users of Research in Motion's BlackBerry smartphones.

For one, SmrtGuard lets you remotely track or wipe your phone. A "Pro" version of the software also gives a "data protection package," enabling you to backup and restore your data.

BuddyGuard also lets you remotely access, lock, wipe, or retrieve a missing BlackBerry (via GPS). Similar to MobileMe, you can also have the BlackBerry emit a loud tone -- even if the phone was left in silent mode -- if you suspect the device is somewhere in the home, car, or office.

Last updated: Apr 30, 2010




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