The Hidden Risks of Mobile Devices and Removable Media

[Editor’s Note: Especially in the past few years, cybercrime has skyrocketed at an alarming rate as criminals increasingly find opportunities to target businesses, causing unimaginable chaos from data breaches to attacks on the supply chain. To help businesses shore up their digital defenses, we’re publishing a 5-part series about cybersecurity, covering topics from the benefits of the cloud to multi-factor authentication. In part 4 of this series, we examine the risks of mobile devices and steps to take to prevent the worst from happening. To view the other parts of this series, scroll down to the end of this article.]

The Hidden Risks of Mobile Devices and Removable Media – Part 4 of 5

It’s no secret that devices like smartphones, tablets, USB drives, and memory cards have made the shift to a work-at-home economy possible. And even in traditional workplaces, they’ve added tremendous value.

But the benefits they add can be easily undermined when these devices fall prey to loss, damage, or theft. And the consequences can range from inconvenient loss of data to catastrophic network compromise by cyber attackers.

Here are some tips to keep in mind to keep the worst of these consequences from happening.

Devices in Motion is Data at Risk

USB or “thumb” drives and memory cards have made transferring data from one place to another incredibly easy. However, the simple act of putting this data in motion introduces risk.

A drive or memory card can easily slip out of a pocket or purse. And if the data you’re transferring isn’t backed up, your company could be at a significant loss. Most drives and memory cards are inexpensively produced, making them prone to failure or easily damaged.

If you’re regularly using these devices, keep this in mind and consider cloud storage and accessibility as an accompanying storage and transfer method.

Phones and Tablets are Targets

When you use your smartphone or tablet to conduct business in public spaces, there’s no shortage of risks to your device or network.

The apparent concern is these devices can be easily damaged if dropped or stolen. And if you take your eye off them, there are less obvious risks to consider.

Shoulder Surfers

Did you know there was a term for people who hover nearby in the hope of stealing your passwords and login credentials when you office from your favorite coffee shop?

Shoulder surfers inhabit public spaces to harvest these credentials for later use or sell the information to cybercriminals. You can deter them by being aware of your surroundings or choosing seating out of the sightline of would-be thieves.

Signal Stealers

There’s a reason they call it public WiFi, and it’s not because it’s private. Using unsecured WiFi opens you up to cyberthieves who camp out nearby and monitor the airwaves. When you log into your company network, they collect your information.

Never use public WiFi for anything confidential, business, or personal. Defer this activity until you’re safely using a secure WiFi connection. Or, if you have access to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that encrypts your information, use this.

Pickpockets and Conventional Thieves

In the digital age, it’s easy to forget that old-fashioned means of theft still can present problems. But the truth is that conventional criminals just as easily target your phone, tablet, or other mobile devices as cybercriminals.

Take your eye off your device for even a few seconds in some public places, and you might be at a loss. And you can kiss goodbye to whatever work data you may have stored on the device.

While the chances of retrieving your device may be slim, you still can protect your data from falling into the wrong hands. Set up your device’s auto-lock feature to engage after five minutes of nonuse, and only those who know the code will get in.

Protect your data further by enabling the data wipe feature available on most devices. The data wipe feature erases what’s stored after several failed login attempts. However, this option is only recommended if you have your data backed up somewhere else.

Malicious Tricksters are Out There

Have you ever come across a USB drive or memory stick in a public place or parking lot that makes you curious about its contents? Don’t plug it into your personal or work laptop to find out.

Cyberthieves are known to leave these around establishments they want to infiltrate. And when curious employees plug them into their computer, it unleashes malware that deploys any number of threats, including ransomware.

What to Remember

Knowing that there are risks involved with mobile and removable devices, you can minimize them by keeping the following in mind:

  • Always back up your data on a separate device or in the cloud.
  • Don’t use memory drives or cards for long-term storage as they may fail.
  • Be wary of your surroundings when using devices.
  • Never plug an unfamiliar device into your laptop or business computer.

Finally, don’t forget that movement and motion are the key risks to the devices we use to make work possible in our on-the-go economy. Protecting them under these circumstances will protect you and your business, too.

Cybersecurity Series:


Part 1: Ransomware: A Prescription for Prevention

Part 2: Making the Case for Multi-Factor Authentication

Part 3: Protecting Your Cloud-Based Enterprise: It’s Everyone’s Responsibility

Part 5: Protecting Your Remote Workforce from Cybersecurity Threats