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Many Enterprises Clueless on Mobile Data: Study

mobile data security
Smartphones keep employees connected to their work and each other and unquestionably improve their efficiency but a recent survey of 100 European IT executives found that most companies have no idea just how much sensitive data is shared and housed on employees' mobile devices.

From a security standpoint, this disconnect poses significant problems for companies that are torn between empowering their employees—most of whom will continue to use their iPhones or Androids with our without an employers' blessing—locking down the competitive and sensitive data they must exchange to do their jobs.

During its Mobile Enterprise 09 conference, Sybase (NYSE: SY) asked 100 IT executives to weigh in on this growing data security issue. Of those surveyed, two in three companies said they are not fully aware of exactly what sensitive data is stored on employees' mobile devices and—perhaps more troubling—38 percent said they don't even know what applications are being run by employees on their smartphones.

Moreover, only 15 percent of respondents said they are "completely confident" that they would be legally protected should an employee's mobile device be lost or stolen and whatever data contained on the devices fell into the wrong person's or organization's hands.

"These figures show there is a continued lack of central management of mobile devices within enterprises," Martin Karlowitsch, Sybase's director of field marketing for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said in the report. "To ensure the enterprise is protected from any mobile threat, intentional or unintentional, organizations need to ensure that mobility policies are as stringent as their wider IT security and management initiatives. Mobility must fit into the wider picture."

Incorporating smartphones into the enterprise in a secure manner remains awork in progress. The ubiquity of Wi-Fi service coupled with the alarming rate at which mobile devices go missing creates a seemingly number of data security risks for companies and consumers.

"As part of the evolution in enterprise data infrastructure, enterprise mobility will take on an increasingly central role…," IDC analyst Lars Vestergaard said in a statement. "To underestimate the strategic role of mobility, or to view it as an isolated solution in the wider ICT infrastructure risks limiting its potential of delivering decision critical information."

The survey also found that only one in three companies queried has the capability to centrally manage all mobile devices and operating systems.

According to a report earlier this year by technology research firm Vanson Bourne, nearly 80 percent of companies reported an increase in the number of employees wanting to use their mobile devices for work purposes.

At the same time, the Ponemon Institute claims that more than 800,000 data-sensitive devices—including USB drives, hard drives, laptops and mobile devices—are either lost or stolen each year, including nearly 12,000 laptops at airports alone each week.

"The technology exists for organizations to manage all mobile devices, secure company information and ensure compliance," Karlowitsch said. "Organizations failing to invest in these capabilities are irresponsible and putting themselves at risk, as well as missing out on the financial benefits of effective mobilization."