Business, SMB

Ooops! I Left My Smartphone and Company Data at the Bar

By on Sep 09, 2013

Mobile devices have become a part of our everyday lives. We take our cell phones with us everywhere- to the grocery store, doctor’s office, social outings, even the mailbox. We are rarely without our phones. According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index, by the end of 2013 the number of mobile-connected devices is expected to exceed the world’s population. To put it into perspective, more people have access to mobile phones than working toilets- six billion of the estimated seven  billion people in the world have access to a mobile phone, while only 4.5 billion have access to working toilets.[1]

I went lunch the other day with a friend who owns her own interior design firm and she pulled her smartphone out of her bag and showed me the Intuit Go Payment device she now uses to accept on-the-spot payments from her customers. She told me it has completely changed her business because she now has the ability to accept credit cards at the point of sale, shortening the time to payment and giving her better cash flow.

SMBs are increasingly using mobile and social platforms to promote their products and improve operating efficiency. A recent study revealed that 40 percent of business owners currently use a mobile credit card reader attached to a smartphone or tablet (e.g., Intuit, Square, Paypal etc.) to accept payment at the point of sale. An additional 16 percent plan on adding this capability within the next 12 months. Plumbers, electricians, lawn services, crafts fairs, farmers markets all benefit from taking payments through their phone or tablet wherever they are.

Business owners use of mobile solutions is nearly ubiquitous,- with 91 percent now using mobile solutions to help support their businesses.[2]  According to research from the Aberdeen Group, 80 percent of businesses allow employees to use their own devices for work purposes. In many cases, these devices do not meet minimum-security standard and, as a result exposing the company to cyber-attacks and data breaches.[3]

Mobile devices pose a particular danger as they are easily stolen, providing location data and often contain personally identifiable information – of not only that of the owner but any business data  and information the device has stored as well.

Mobile devices give us so many opportunities, but with those opportunities also come great risks.  A recent Consumer Reports study revealed that only 8 percent of people encrypt their phones and, while 23 percent lock their screen with a 4-digit pin. However, the majority (64 percent) don’t use a password at all to protect their phone. An infected mobile device could easily pass malware on to an entire network if not properly secured.

Business owners should take the following simple steps to ensure any device connected to their business is secure:

  • Optimize your business infrastructure for mobile workers
    • Use virtual terminals where all data is securely stored on remote terminals and applications used to access that data are cloud-based, so users log on and off, but do not store anything, including applications, locally.
    • Use a secure, hosted mail server that provides each employee with their own login to their email account
  • Develop a BYOD policy
    • Require the basics – mobile device management, antivirus, encryption and a secure container for business data are used on the device.
    • Implement policy controls over memory card usage and encrypt data
    • Enforce password policies requiring complex, alpha-numeric passwords
    • Be careful not to be too strict, as employees will end up using the device to access business data and then transferring it to more user-friendly personal devices, making the issue worse…
  • Install firewall on the mobile device to restrict inbound connections and prevent use of the mobile device as a bridge
  • Educate employees on their role in protecting the business, its data and brand against theft, loss or malicious use

I know most of you will be listening intently tomorrow during Apple’s highly anticipated media event at 10 a.m. PT, as it is expected to reveal a new batch of iPhones and iPads. I will be paying close attention to how these new devices – whatever they are –  will impact the game for business owners across the globe.


[1] U.N. Study – 21 March 2013 – United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson
[2] Research and Markets 2013 Small and Medium Businesses Mobile Solutions Study
[3] The Aberdeen Group; Enterprise Mobility Management 2012: The Global Perspective. August, 2012

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