Protect your mobile device

The need to secure newer mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) has grown since they now meet the basic criteria for malicious, cyberspace-based attack:

  • Developer kits are readily available
  • Mobile devices are in widespread use throughout the world
  • Motivation is increasing since usable/saleable data live on these devices

In addition, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has introduced related, security-oriented concerns and complexities:

  • How can we accommodate personal equipment in the workplace, particularly when two-thirds of 20-something workers in a recent survey from research firm Vision Critical state that “they, not the company, should be responsible for the security of devices used for work purposes”?1
  • How do we manage the large variety of mobile devices, many with differing operating systems, processing capabilities, and user interfaces?
  • How do we structure our security offerings to permit broad access to low-risk functions while restricting high-risk activities on a need-to-have basis?

Protecting a smartphone (or tablet) gets easier if you take the perspective of Garin Livingstone, one of our technical staff, who pointed out: “It is just a small computer; all of the same security concerns and rules that apply to PCs also apply to smartphones.”

As described in a recent InformationWeek article2, corporate response from the IT department should consist of these three stages:

  • Set policy for mobile device use
  • Train users
  • Enforce


1. Policies

Mobile-device-use policies should protect company data, while enabling employees to do their jobs efficiently.  The policy should protect, but not inhibit, the use of data from a mobile device; this usually requires the protection of the device itself with a strong focus on what data is available and where it will reside.

Some policy suggestions:

  • Device:
    • Deploy an anti-malware utility set to scan automatically
    • Set continuous updates of operating system and anti-malware utility
    • Encrypt company data (if stored on the device itself)
    • Backup data to a secure site (preferably daily)
  • User:
    • Require passwords and make them complex
    • Set an auto-lock period of five minutes or less
    • Set browsers to high-security mode
  • Remote access:
    • Access data/applications securely via SSL, HTTPS, or VPN technologies
    • Provide virtualized access to data stored at the corporate site


2. Training

Training is an important, early step in any process; informing end-users of the need to secure their mobile devices is critical.  Recommended training topics:

  • Why we need to authenticate and encrypt
  • How to reduce the risk of loss or theft
  • How to safely deploy new applications
  • How to securely backup your data

Authenticate and encrypt

Authentication is the process of confirming that the end-user is authorized to use the mobile device in a prescribed manner.  It is typically handled through a username with a complex password that is changed frequently.  (A complex password requires at least three of four character options – capital letter, lower-case letter, numeric, and special character – with at least eight characters.)

Increasingly, biometrics (fingerprint verification, eye-scans, etc.) are playing a role in authentication.

Sensitive data should be encrypted to make it unreadable if the device is lost or stolen.  (Encryption scrambles the content, making it unreadable to anyone without the capability to unencrypt.)  Authentication is required to unencrypt and access the data.

Reduce the risk of loss or theft

Cell phones are easy targets for theft; they can be sold on-the-street and are (still) easily programmed to a new service on a cellular network.

To prevent theft:

  • Be vigilant; know where your cell phone is at all times and keep it close to your body.  (It doesn’t always help:  One of our clients had his cellphone taken right from his hand by a man on a bike on a busy city street; the bicyclist also gave him a kick to discourage pursuit.)
  • Install phone-tracking software
  • Install a physical locking device

Safely deploy new applications

Mobile-device users download applications through app stores installed on the device.  App stores are increasingly targeted areas for malware distribution; only trusted and approved applications should be downloaded and deployed.  (Most app stores have responded by requiring additional security precautions from their customers.)

For company-owned devices, end-users should have specific guidelines on what applications can or cannot be deployed; ideally, an enforcement mechanism would be installed on the mobile device to ensure these policies are followed.  For employee-owned devices, this policy may need to be recommended rather than required.

Securely backup your data

To prevent loss or inadvertent deletion, data stored on a mobile device (pictures, documents, contacts, etc.) should be backed-up in an encrypted format to a separate, secure location.

Backups should be required on devices owned by the organization and strongly recommended for individually owned devices.  Backups should be scheduled periodically and verified.

Online, consumer-oriented backup and file-storage applications – spritemobile, DropBox, Mozy, SugarSync – are somewhat restricted by the mobile-device operating system in what type of data that they can backup; typically contacts, calendars, tunes, and photos.  Full backups are usually done through tethering (attaching the phone to an external device).

Visit Enterprise Security Policies for Mobile Device Backup and Restoreat for an informative article on mobile-device backup.


3. Enforcement

Enforcement is usually assisted through a Mobile Device Management (MDM) tool; typically a software-based application that requires an agent be installed to the mobile device.  Once installed, this agent connects back (remotely) to a central console from which an administrator can monitor, manage, and secure the mobile device and also support its user.

MDM features typically include:

  • Enforce user security policy:
    • Require complex password with frequent changes
    • Permit remote access only via SSL or VPN
    • Lock-down browser settings
    • Enable encryption
  • Recover lost or stolen devices:
    • Activate alarm (set off an audible alarm on the device)
    • Enable track and locate (track and locate the device via GPS)
    • Permit remote wipe (complete erasure of the device as a last resort)
  • Control mobile device applications:
    • Recognize and prevent installation of unauthorized applications
    • Permit whitelisting and blacklisting of application
    • Restrict or block application stores
  • Remotely deploy and configure applications (email, etc.)
  • Audit the mobile device for installed software, configuration, and capacity

ComputerWorld has a comprehensive article on the challenges of MDM.  View it at Mobile device management: Getting started.

MDM Tools

To support our mobile device clients, we use the MDM capabilities built into Kaseya, our Remote Monitoring and Management tool.  Other MDM providers include:

  • AirWatch
  • LabTech
  • MobileIron
  • Symantec
  • Zenprise

While MDM provides a comprehensive tool, it can be costly to procure and support.  Many companies utilize a trusted business partner (like Bryley) to provide MDM tooling, monitoring, and support for their mobile devices on an ongoing basis with pricing that ranges from $15 (in quantity) to $75 per device per month.

Non-MDM Tools

Alternatively, Microsoft Exchange 2010 offers many MDM-type features through Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), an included protocol that licenses by end-user or end-device Client Access License (CAL).  The Exchange 2010 Standard CAL licenses:

  • Password security policies
  • Encryption required
  • Remote wipe

The Exchange 2010 Enterprise Add-On CAL licenses advanced features including:

  • Allow/disallow Internet browser, consumer email, unsigned installation, etc.
  • Allow/disallow removable storage, Wi-Fi, Internet sharing, etc.
  • Allow/block specific applications
  • Per-user journaling
  • Integrated archive

Exchange Server Standard 2010 is $709; Standard CALs are $68 each while the Enterprise Add-On CAL is an additional $42 each (based on list prices for business).

Main difference between MDM and EAS: Most MDM tools provide greater control over the mobile device during its lifecycle and can provide control over the device even before email is configured.

Other recommended tools include:

  • Anti-malware: AVG Mobilation – From free to $9.99 for Pro version
  • Protect and find phone via key-case fob – Kensington Bungee Air at $79.99

First step suggestions

These are our minimum, first-step suggestions:

  • Deploy anti-malware software immediately and manage it continuously
  • Require password to activate the device with a low auto-lock time
  • Update mobile devices through vendor-approved patching
  • Enable on-board encryption if handling sensitive data

Visit 10 Steps to Secure Your Mobile Device for detailed recommendations on securing your mobile device.



1. Visit Network World at to review the article “Young employees say BYOD a Right not Privilege” by Ellen Messmer.

2. Please review the May 12, 2012 InformationWorld article “Mobile Security Gaps Abound” at by Michael Finneran.


For more information, please email or call us at 978.562.6077.