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Are Your Mobile Devices Secure?

English: SHARP Smartphone SH-12C Front 日本語: AQ...

For some advisors, smartphones and other portable devices, are a godsend that allows them access to client data on the go. For others, it can be a nightmare.

Such tools can present considerable liability for advisors due to data security breaches. And identify theft, or the use or personal data, such as credit cards, to steal from unsuspecting individuals, is growing.

Last year, identity thieves stole more than $21 billion, the highest level since 2009, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. The challenge is even greater for smaller independent reps as approximately half of all security attacks target firms with less than 2,500 employees, according to Internet security firm Symantec.

The portable nature of mobile devices, of course, means the tools can be left accidentally in public places, such as coffee shops and easily fall into the hands of those who would use sensitive data to conduct indentity theft. In addition to the embarrassing situation of informing clients that their sensitive data has been hacked, such security breaches can inflict reputation harm on firms. Yet, advisors can take many simple actions to keep data secure.

The best place for advisors to start is with their home office by inquiring if information technology departments provide training on mobile device security. In many cases, data breaches occur from human error, such as phishing scams that involve setting up bogus websites that claim they are providing software security upgrades and then prompt users to enter passwords.

At the same time, advisors should check if their technology departments offer other services, such as software upgrades and data backup that can help with security. Home office technology teams may also help advisors establish virtual private networks, which are like private tunnels within the Internet that ensure that sensitive data is encrypted.

Beyond that, there are a variety of security measures that advisors should use, including fairly basic practices that are easy to overlook.  Most mobile devices are preset to require only a four digit password, which is much easier to hack than longer passwords. With that in mind, advisors should reset their phones to require six-to-nine digit passwords. Advisors should also ensure that their devices are set up to go into auto lock during periods of inactivity. Even with that feature activated, however, they should always log off from their systems rather than simply waiting for their devices to lock up. Otherwise, unauthorized users who acquire the devices may gain access to data before the sleep mode kicks in. In addition, in some cases, cyber crooks that have hacked into a system may be booted offline when the device owner signs off.

Security experts also warn that wireless networks provided for the general public, such as those offered by coffee shops or other retailers, aren’t secure. They say mobile device users should instead use 4G networks provided by their telecommunications providers. Advisors should also set up applications that track smartphone locations and allow users to remotely wipe sensitive data off misplaced devices. That way, data can be quickly deleted in the event that smartphones or tablets are misplaced.

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