A Wireless Whirl

Survey Reveals a Need to Protect Mobile Wireless Users
by: Jerry Liao

Mobile devices nowadays are as powerful as personal computers, particularly in the area of connectivity. Not only can mobile users use their mobile devices to communicate via voice and text messaging, but they can also access their emails. Users can now compose, send and receive emails even with attachements.

Research firm Gartner reported that wireless email will reach commodity status by 2012. The report also indicated that wireless e-mail will become increasingly popular with both businesses and consumers, due to the increasing availability of wireless e-mail support both in devices and from service providers as well as by improved usability. Corporate use will also rise as enterprises come under increased pressure to provide real-time communications for their expanding mobile workforce said Gartner.

But as wireless usage becomes more and more popular, the threat that goes with it is something mobile users should not ignore. COmpanies who empowers their workers to become mobile workers should pay a lot of attention to their security.

A global third-party study commissioned by Cisco and the National Cyber Security Alliance reveals behavioral findings among mobile wireless workers that spotlight the human side of security as businesses and IT organizations empower more and more employees to remain connected outside of their offices.

Conducted this spring by InsightExpress, an independent market research firm, the study explores what’s at stake for businesses striving to become mobile, and therefore more agile and efficient. It reveals findings gleaned from more than 700 mobile employees in seven countries that have adopted wireless technologies widely: the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, China, India, South Korea, and Singapore. Although the study uncovers risky behavioral trends, the results represent a major opportunity for IT to play a more proactive and strategic role in protecting their employees and businesses overall, both through education and solutions.

This is especially relevant as adoption of wireless and mobility technologies increases. For example, IDC reports that by 2009 the number of mobile workers in the United States is expected to reach more than 70 percent of the country’s total workforce. Korn/Ferry International reports that 81 percent of executives globally are constantly connected via mobile devices.

“Wireless and mobility technologies are here to stay. They’re a fact of life,” said Ron Teixeira, executive director of NCSA, an organization chartered to educate the public on online security and safety. “While this study shows mobility provides businesses with new risks, so do other Internet services and new technologies. Mobility and the Internet can be used securely and safely if businesses institute a culture of security within their workforce by providing their employees with continuous cyber security awareness and education programs.”

Almost three of every four (73 percent) mobile users claimed that they are not always cognizant of security threats and best practices when working on the go. Although many said they are aware “sometimes,” 28 percent of them admitted that they “hardly ever” consider security risks and proper behavior. Some of these mobile users even admitted that they “never” consider safe best practices and didn’t know they needed to be aware of security risks. When asked why they were lax in their security behavior, many mobile users offered reasons like, “I’m in a hurry”, “I’m busy and need to get work done,” “Security just is not top-of-mind for me,” and “It’s IT’s job, not mine”.

According to Ben Gibson, director of Cisco’s wireless and mobility solutions, this reasoning highlights the importance for IT to engage users and educate them on good security behavior. A good security culture drives good security behavior, he says.

“Businesses are increasingly entrusting more and more employees with access to corporate information anywhere outside of the office, and this doesn’t need to be a growing concern – not if the proper security technology and IT-user engagement model is in place,” Gibson said. “After all, embracing mobility and truly leveraging the power it gives businesses – agility, access, responsiveness, efficiency – requires protecting and educating employees to prevent them from undermining this value. This is a role IT can and should play more proactively than they traditionally have in the past.”

The benefit of being able to work from anywhere is undeniably big and great, but it comes with a risk, a big risk – SECURITY. If handled wrongly, the risk of having a mobile workforce may even overshadow the benefit that the technology brings. Gartner predicts that the increasing convergence of corporate and consumer technologies is leaving many user organizations exposed to increased security risks.

My advice to companies is to give security a lot of thought. Give security more emphasis in your strategic planning. Better be sure than sorry right?

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