Mobile Devices: Data Lockdown

By Lauren Simonds | Posted May 03, 2006

A recent spate of corporate security breaches has at least two big companies scrambling after the loss or theft of corporate notebooks resulted in exposing the personal information of thousands of clients and employees.

In one case, a notebook stolen from Ernst and Young contained the personal data on employees from Sun Microsystems, Cisco, IBM, BP and Nokia. In a similar mishap, a lost notebook at Fidelity Investments exposed the names and social security numbers of 196,000 HP employees.

Small businesses are perhaps even more susceptible to this type of security breach because they typically lack the IT support and security practices available to major corporations. (Available but, evidently, not always implemented.)

Last year, we took a look at Essential Taceo, software developed by Essential Software (ESS) and designed to protect e-mail and to prevent anyone from forwarding, copying, or printing the e-mail that you send. ESS recently announced the newest edition of Essential Taceo (version 1.6), which now includes Remote Laptop Security, a feature designed to prevent unauthorized access to e-mail and documents on a notebook.

According to Ray Zambrowski, president and CEO of ESS, savvy small businesses typically protect data inside the firewall from threats such as viruses, spam and phishing. But mobile devices — especially notebooks — that carry data outside the protection of the company firewall remain a weak link. "When a company laptop is stolen, your business is exposed," said Zambrowski. "You can lose all kinds of sensitive data — customer info: network passwords, intellectual property. That kind of loss can put you out of business."

Encryption plays a major role in Taceo's remote laptop security feature. ESS designed the software to store any files — e-mail, spreadsheets, Word docs, images — you want secured in a 1028-bit RAS encrypted, password-protected folder on the notebook's hard drive. "Small businesses haven't been able to take advantage of encryption technologies because of the complexity and the price," said Zambrowski. "Until now, that capability has been limited to big corporations."

So how safe is this encrypted folder? Zambrowski said a security expert might describe it this way: An average person couldn't get in. A motivated, moderately funded hacker would give up. A super-motivated, well-funded hacker with enough time might crack it.

Beyond the encrypted folder, the software offers a second line of defense. In the event that your notebook is stolen or lost — or if you believe that someone has stolen your password, you can go to the ESS Web site, log on to your account and deactivate that notebook. Zambrowski says deactivating renders the password useless and disables access to the information on that computer.

ESS sells Essential Taceo on an annual subscription basis for $59.95 per person or computer. You can download the software at the ESS site and use it for free for 30 days.

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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