Are government mobile devices safe enough?

Smartphones and portable laptop computers have forever changed the ways that the American people use technology. No longer just for simple communications like phone calls and emails, mobile devices allow retailers to sell products, consumers to pay their bills and data to be stored and uploaded to cloud integration systems from any location. 

But with the increased convenience of people carrying all of their data on one device that they can always have on them comes increased risk as well. From personal conversations to business details to credit numbers, people hold a lot of sensitive information in the palms of their hands each day. For government workers who conduct business on their smartphones and laptops, there is an especially grave risk that lost phones or operating system data hacks could leak valuable information that needs to be protected.

"One laptop is stolen every minute, usually at an offsite location."

Cybersecurity risks of mobile technology
According to an infographic from Kensington, shared by ReadWrite, only 7 percent of the 70 million smartphones that are lost each year are ever recovered. Of those stolen phones, 57 percent are left unprotected by mobile security features. The source also found that one laptop is stolen every minute, usually at an offsite location or when in transit. 

That puts a wealth of information into thieves' hands. Contact lists, emails and Internet credentials are stored on more than 50 percent of people's smartphones. Mobile wallets and banking information can be easily accessed and stolen off of smartphones and computers as well. 

Browsing the Web on mobile devices is also becoming riskier. The devices don't even need to leave the users to have data stolen. According to VentureBeat, the safety of mobile Web browsers is a top security threat facing the technology sector in 2016.  Hackers are becoming more aware of the loopholes in mobile technology systems and finding new ways to exploit them to gather valuable information they should not have access to. 

Mobile devices are also at risk when attaching to unsecured networks. Public wireless Internet, for example, can expose a phone, tablet or laptop computer to remote device hijacking. Hackers can even listen in to conversations or read email exchanges as they happen with this kind of access.

Protecting mobile devices from data threats
Government agencies deal with a lot of sensitive information on a daily basis. When busy employees are on the road or take their work home with them, they often rely on these mobile devices to quickly and easily stay in touch and continue with time-sensitive work. 

It's important that they take necessary precautions to protect their devices to avoid another wide-scale government data breach. Offices should invest in their own Wi-Fi hotspot devices, for example. These will allow traveling employees to take their own secure networks with them everywhere they go, so whether they are working from a hotel, airport or coffee shop, they don't have to rely on an Internet connection that is being accessed by hundreds of other people. 

PC Magazine recommends that people take the secure hotspot a step further by using a virtual private network connection. If a personal hotspot can't be secured, users can turn public Internet access into a their own secured connection. With a VPN, even if a person's network connection was hacked, the cybertheif would only be met with encrypted data. This allows the user to browse and conduct business safely without worrying about cyber eavesdroppers.

More than half of stolen smartphones don't have the most basic security locking features. More than half of stolen smartphones lack the most basic security locking features.

What employees can do to protect their own devices
There are even more simple steps that government employees can take themselves to improve mobile cybersecurity. Preventing physical thefts is the easiest way to keep devices secure. For one thing, no one should ever should leave a phone or laptop unattended. If traveling for business, these devices should always be carried on a person or locked in a hotel safe or other security device. Locking cases are good for storing important devices during transport as well.

When in transit, mobile phones and laptops should also go as a carry-on item. Suitcases are not a secure way to transport technologies that hold sensitive information. People should try to take this a step further and always keep their devices in sight by keeping them under an airplane seat instead of stowing them in an overhead compartment.

Smartphones and computers should also be password protected with secure codes. Business Insider recommends passwords that are as long as possible, randomized and unique to that specific account or device.

Keeping personal technologies separate from work devices will also help keep that sensitive government data more secure. 

Using a professional, experienced IT group can help any government agency examine and upgrade its technology security to ensure that organizations are keeping their staff and their clients as safe as possible.