ERR: Protecting Your Hand-Held From Hacking

Imagine what would happen if you lost your hand-held computer. All of the personal and client data stored on your personal digital assistant (PDA) would be at risk. A potential computer hacker could gain access to confidential information, such as your passwords and credit card numbers as well as business records and client lists. This starts to produce a significant security issue for me, says Jan

Imagine what would happen if you lost your hand-held computer. All of the personal and client data stored on your personal digital assistant (PDA) would be at risk. A potential computer hacker could gain access to confidential information, such as your passwords and credit card numbers as well as business records and client lists.

“This starts to produce a significant security issue for me,” says Jan Spalding, a broker at Northwestern Mutual in St. Louis who carries a Palm Pilot. “It would be a terrible embarrassment to have people start screwing with my client list.”

Spalding, like many brokers, has become more and more concerned about the availability of files on PDAs. “I feel like I've got to have something to make sure that nobody can access this data,” he says.

Protecting Your Hand-Held

Most hand-held computers come with password protection. But a quick search of the Internet reveals there are several ways to crack these codes. PDA Defense ($29.95 by Asynchrony, www.PDADefense.com) is one software program that may give you the extra security you need.

PDA Defense uses a multilayered approach to security. It includes encryption and a feature called “bit-wipe” that automatically wipes out memory upon attempted security breaches. In addition, it disables data transfer mechanisms when the device is turned off and locked. An option allows users to set a time delay after the device powers off and before PDA Defense locks the device and encrypts the data.

The program can also be set to wipe out data if the device is not connected to a network within a user-specified amount of time. This option can erase all information before a thief can attempt to defeat the other security measures. Users have the option to display user information contained in the owner preferences so if the device is lost the finder knows where to return the unit.

TealLock ($16.95 by TealPoint Software, www.tealpoint.com) is another program that supplements the basic security features built into the Palm operating system. TealLock allows users to lock the device or hide private records based on time, day of the week or elapsed time since use.

For instance, TealLock can be set to automatically lock the Palm when it is turned off. The feature can also be disabled or set to lock if the unit is off longer than a certain time.

A corporate version of the program is also available. Extra features include an administrator password, administrator-only access to activation or settings, an installation file to preinstall units with identical settings and options to restrict user passwords to be alphanumeric, to have minimum lengths or to expire after a specified number of days.

Added Sense of Security

Spalding decided that the relatively small cost of such software is worth the added security. “As a person who is in the prospecting business, I certainly would be interested in having client lists,” he says. “Consequently, that stuff could be easily lifted.”

Clients are starting to ask about security as well, Spalding notes. “I've got to be able to give my clients some kind of assurance.”

Quarter-Million PDAs, Cells Lost Annually

More than 250,000 cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) will be lost at airports this year, according to Gartner Inc., a research company in Stamford, Conn. The actual cost of hardware replacement is negligible compared with the potential liability for compromised sensitive data.

In 2000, seven million PDA devices were sold in the United States alone, according to Gartner. By 2004, that number will reach close to 30 million. The growth reflects a change in technology at corporations, which are increasingly issuing hand-held computers to employees, the researcher says.
B.R.H.

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