How and When to Wipe Data Off of a Mobile Device

girlAs the workplace grows increasingly mobile, employees are using smartphones and tablets to access the company network. This increased access means increased vulnerability for sensitive data, intellectual property or other proprietary information. While your company should have clear policies regarding what employees can and can’t access on mobile devices, good cyber security guidance always suggests enabling every device with a remote wipe capability.

On one hand, wiping a mobile device is a big deal, particularly if the device contains the employee’s personal files and emails. On the other hand, leaving data exposed is an unacceptable risk to the company. In certain situations, executing either a manual or remote wipe is a must. The technique will vary slightly for each type of phone.

Wiping a Mobile Device Before Disposal

An upgrade to a new smartphone or tablet means disposing of the old device. Just as you would wipe your hard drive before disposing of your computer, you should wipe your mobile phone before disposing of it. Take the following steps:

  1. Perform a factory reset. If you can, then transfer all of your information to your new device. After you conduct the reset, check your contacts, your emails, your search histories, your call logs and other vital areas to make sure the device is clean.
  2. Remove your subscriber identification module (SIM) and secure data (SD) cards. If you’re keeping your phone number, then ask your carrier if you can install your SIM card in your new device. Before disposing of these cards, delete all data.
  3. Dispose of your device responsibly. Many municipal organizations recycle electronics, and so do many retailers. You can also donate your phone to an organization that uses them for charitable purposes.

Remote Wipe for a Lost or Stolen Device

Phones can be replaced, but the data on a lost or stolen device, such as online banking information, virtual private networks (VPN) credentials or corporate documents could be extremely valuable. Therefore, wipe a lost or stolen device as soon as you realize that it’s gone.

  1. Use GPS to locate the device. If your device is at home in the crack between your bed and the wall, then you won’t have to wipe it. However, if your phone is in a public place, then you’ll need to go ahead and erase its contents. You’ll need to do it quickly before you lose the signal or before the battery dies.
  2. Wipe the phone. Use the following steps for the most popular operating systems:
    1. iOS: ICloud makes a remote wipe easy. Simply log into your iCloud account and execute the wipe.
    2. Android: Google Play offers an app called Android Lost that can be pushed from the Google Play store directly to a lost Android phone. For company-issued Android phones, install Google Apps Device Policy before issuing the phone to an employee.
    3. BlackBerry: Use the BlackBerry Protect app for individual devices. For BlackBerry Enterprise Server handsets, use the IT command “Erase Data and Disable Handheld.”
    4. Windows Phone. Log into “www.windowsphone.com” and click “My Phone.” From there, follow the instructions.

Wiping a Device When an Employee Leaves the Company

So many employers think the story of the disgruntled employee who takes proprietary information to a competitor won’t happen to them. You can’t stop the loss if the employee has already stored data on another device at home, such as a personal laptop or USB drive, but you can ensure that the mobile device is erased.

  1. Establish a clear policy. Any device that accesses the company network should have user access policies enforced. Also, the device should be tagged, tracked, backed up and logged. Make sure your employees know that their mobile devices could be wiped when they change jobs.
  2. Talk your policies over with corporate attorneys. A wipe executed accidentally or without the employee’s knowledge could have legal consequences related to invasion of privacy. Check the policy with your legal team, teach it to your employees and enforce it consistently.

Wiping a mobile device isn’t a perfect solution. No matter what, all endpoint devices are always suspect. However, remote wipe capabilities are an important component of every security protocol.

About the Author

Noah Gamer directs the global Internet Marketing optimization and product Web reputation strategy as the Senior Manager of Search Marketing at Trend Micro Cyber Protection. He specializes in Web product strategy development, competitive analysis, targeted content ranking methods and site optimization while influencing online identity and brand for product marketing, public relations, investor relations, technical support and corporate marketing initiatives.

How and When to Wipe Data Off of a Mobile Device
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