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Mobility and remote access are the new staples for enterprise IT organizations. Contingencies for continuity of operations in a variety of departments, a more mobile workforce, and the growing need to securely share information with other entities all necessitate a new focus on mobile data.

Smart phones, USB flash drives and other mobile devices typically carry sensitive information, and their small size makes them strong candidates for loss or theft. A recent study found that 51 percent of enterprise users store confidential information on USB flash drives, and 39 percent have lost flash drives or laptops. Perhaps equally disconcerting is the fact that 72 percent of these failed to report the loss promptly.

Since these highly portable devices now have the capacity to hold millions of pages of data, they provide an easily concealed package that hostile agents or forces can use to steal confidential enterprise information, IP or other sensitive business secrets.

Lost or stolen flash drives containing everything from multiple customers' private data to confidential product planning to plans for upcoming mergers and acquisitions have the potential to end up in the wrong hands. Whether measured in enterprise security or legal costs and remediation for the affected organization, data breaches such as these can have devastating consequences. Organizations also risk the damage to their brands that can result from mandatory data breach disclosures.

Managing these risks without nullifying the significant productivity and efficiency benefits of mobile devices has become a delicate balancing act facing IT departments. Rather than banning the use of these devices or going back to archaic practices such as disabling USB ports, IT managers need to ensure the security of the data stored on them, while maximizing their potential to deliver everything from greater productivity to rapid disaster recovery. The following best practices represent a good roadmap for organizations that are grappling with this important challenge.

Encrypting mobile data: the bare minimum in security

Regardless of industry, organizations cannot afford to leave sensitive data unprotected on mobile devices. Strong encryption provides the best first step in the battle against loss or theft of information from mobile devices. According to a U.S. government study, it would take approximately 149 trillion years to crack a 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) key.


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