They become smarter and smarter, our elegant darlings in the small business bags and black briefcases. Mobile phones morphing to smartphones; portable handhelds mutating into all-rounder: Technology the size of a spectacle case replaces video recorder, photo camera, hi-fi system and as a matter of course the good old PC. This stolid comrade on his part is banished to wait for its user in dull offices - no exciting business trips around the globe. Still, he has a reason to smile: Heavy devices protect him. An arsenal of defense techniques like virus- and spam filters, intelligent firewalls and intrusion-prevention systems have been developed specifically for him and his wire to the outside world, thus he now possesses a comforting warm protective armor. On the other hand, the small high-tech companions, which are increasingly becoming more a part of our lives, usually stand naked and exposed there with owners only now slowly becoming hesitantly aware that they are carrying around a gateway for viruses and company.

But this doesn’t have to happen. Besides the important rule to never leave your mobile lying around unobserved, there are several methods to put paid malicious contemporaries. In general, remote connections should be activated only when absolutely necessary. Much frequented hotspots like for example airport lounges are dangerous sources of infection and should therefore be avoided if possible.

Encryption systems provide additional protection: If, for example, wireless LAN (WLAN) is used, mechanisms such as WEP or WPA can already block considerably any criminal initiatives. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are able to keep away unwanted network users by encryption, authentication, and authorization processes. On a handheld, laptop, notebook, or smartphone installed VPN-software-clients build a tunnel to the central VPN gateway, so that the data will only operate within this protected area. The VPN solution of Secure Computing for instance allows a centralized configuration and management of all remote accesses.

The incursion into the network should be limited by other measures as well: Many systems allow limiting the access of network clients to those whose MAC address have been typed into a configuration file. Thus, only connections to registered PCs are possible. In general, it is extremely advisable to open networks exclusively to selected user groups.

Coming more and more to the forefront are software solutions such as firewalls and anti-virus software, which are installed locally on laptops, handhelds devices, and smartphones.
The use of special technology is important and complements ongoing adjustments to the company's security policy. For our increasingly under-pressure technical staff, often not enough is done here. As mobile devices are often categorized as “personal”, taking care of the device and its protection is left to the owner. Quite often, the same feeds the mobile with "personal" programs such as dictionaries, navigation systems, and games, which have been downloaded before on the local PC without virus precaution. If the PDA is then plugged in for the purpose of data synchronization with the company computer, the gate and door are open to unwanted intruders. Therefore, handhelds or smartphones have to get out of the grey zone of the private sector into the area of the responsibility of companies’ IT security specialists.

Which of these recommendations you implement at the end depend mainly on the importance of the protected data. At least, nowadays, no one has the excuse anymore that there are no technical possibilities here.

By Daniela La Marca