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Beware the Mobile Rogue

Your employees could be toting around with sensitive company info.

The proliferation of smartphone-toting mobile employees no doubt means a serious productivity boost for many businesses. But before you arm your mobile militia, take heed: There may be traitors in your midst. Employees and ex-employees who have provisioned their smartphones as mobile desktops can access company e-mail and, in some cases, critical company data. Bob Egan, chief analyst and global head of research for research firm TowerGroup, says these so-called rogue users represent one of the biggest threats to a mobile enterprise. The threat to businesses comes not only in the form of viruses and other security issues, but also in added costs for uses like international calling. "Employers have no way of knowing whether these devices are being used for non-sanctioned applications or whether their data is secure," Egan says.

For companies that might be at risk already, Egan says the first step is to conduct a thorough inventory via your mobile service provider or systems integrator to determine which devices have access to your network. Any rogue handsets should be wiped clean and disconnected. If you're just now enabling mobile access, take advance precautions, including requiring mobile workers to use VPN connections and blocking access to public Wi-Fi. Act quickly, because any unauthorized access also means potentially serious legal implications.

"If the devices are being used for business and they carry assets of the company--including customer lists--they do present a liability," Egan says. "This is the stuff of hallway whispers in IT departments, and it has to be dealt with." --J.M.

Wi-Fi on planes
Nearly every airline in the country is implementing Wi-Fi on flights. For some, it's the best thing since the BlackBerry; for others, it means losing their last unwired refuge. Here's a look at the view from both sides of the aisle. --Pieter van Noordennen

Can't Live With It
"I travel on planes almost once a week--to California, Colorado, New York, Chicago, Dubai--and I find value in being forcibly disconnected. On a plane, I get to relax mentally and use that creative, emotional side of my brain. I spend that time thinking about my business, ruminating on big-picture things, and setting up some thoughts about what I'm going to do when I get to my destination. Plus, it's a chance to meet fellow travelers--interesting people who just might become very important people in my life. There's a little insanity that goes with being too hotwired." --Joseph DeNucci, President of Borrego Ranch Resort & Spa, Borrego Springs, Calif.

Can't Live Without It
"It's not just my productivity that suffers when I'm out of touch on a plane; it's my whole team. I use that time to do strategy work--outlining PowerPoints or crafting board e-mails and company communiqu├ęs. These things take multiple drafts, and I need to send them to my executive team for feedback. If I don't have to wait six hours to send the first draft, it significantly reduces the time it takes me to get to a final deliverable. I'm all about cocooning and watching movies when I have downtime, but if you travel a lot, you've already seen the movies the airline is showing." --Carla Stratfold, CEO, OnRequest Images, Seattle

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This article was originally published in the July 2009 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Beware the Mobile Rogue.

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