Smart Security Steps for Mobile Computing

Don't neglect information security as you jump into the mobile computing market.

March 1, 2011

The stage is now fully set in the mobile computer market for 2011. Apple’s March release of the iPad 2, a much anticipated launch, finalizes the line-up in what’s shaping up to be the year of the tablet.

With a new processor that Apple claims is significantly faster than the original iPad, a thinner and lighter design, front and rear cameras, and an updated version of its iOS operating system, the tablet may be substantial enough to coax real estate pros and brokers that it’s time to consider buying some model, even if it’s not Apple’s.

As the March buyer’s guide shows, a tablet’s already available, or soon to be, for every kind of user. Some analysts’ rosy projections claim Apple could sell anywhere between 20 million and 50 million tablets this year. Add to that number the demand for Android tablets and other platforms hitting the market. This time next year, using a tablet may be considered de rigueur by a large share of real estate professionals.

Smartphones, the other rapidly rising mobile platform, continue to evolve as well: Faster processors, improved cameras, and the rich assortment of apps make them an indispensable multifunction tool for real estate. Combined with a tablet, they deliver a one-two punch for mobile productivity: a personal experience on the handset and a larger screen on the tablet for working with customers and clients, including listing presentations and reviewing and sharing contracts and documents.

For all the allure of these mobile platforms, though, they’re prone to the same security issues as desktop and notebooks. As their sales reach a critical mass, smartphones and tablets will become prime targets of malware attacks. Then, there are the inherent physical risks in carrying any popular compact device. It’s much easier to steal these mobile devices than a PC. And a damaged or lost smartphone or tablet can mean lost data.

You’ll never eliminate all of the potential risks, but you can minimize the threats. Simple measures, such as the ones below, can give you peace of mind.

  • Know Your Hardware and OS: Smartphones and tablets both have built-in security features. Some are activated automatically. Others, such as locking the device with a password or encrypting the data, may need to be activated by you.

    You can take extra measures to recover or deactivate stolen hardware, too. iOS users can download the Find My iPhone app and set up a MobileMe account. For Windows Phone 7 devices, Find My Phone requires a Windows Live account. Mobile SuperHero adds comparable protection to several platforms.

  • Think Before You Store: Clients entrust you with sensitive financial information. Should you really store that on a handset or tablet that could end up in the wrong hands? Consider eliminating that risk by storing such information in the “cloud.” Web-based apps or a virtual private network can keep much of the sensitive data off your mobile device while still letting you retrieve it when you need it.
  • Shop for Apps Securely: Download apps only from trusted sources. When you’re unsure about an app or developer, do online research. See if they’ve posed any known security issues. Search for and download real estate apps from proven providers like, Top Producer, and Smarter Agent, to name just a few. For a broader selection, visit the official app Web sites for Android, Blackberry, iPhone iOS, Windows Phone 7, or webOS.
  • Be Sensitive to Your Surroundings: Mobile Web access is a potential chink in the armor. If encryption or other security features aren’t activated, sensitive data could be vulnerable. And in public spaces, there’s always risk of someone visually eavesdropping on private data. Get the devices that offer a secure and private connection over a cellular network with an unlimited data plan rather than relying on uncertain Wi-Fi hot spots.
  • Add a Security App: As threats on smartphones and tablets grow, so will software tools to ward them off. Major publishers of computer security suites either already or will soon offer versions for mobile devices. Some present options include AVG, DroidSecurity, Kaspersky Mobile Security, Norton Mobile Security, Lookout, Symantec’s iPhone app, and Trend Micro Mobile Security.
  • Install Those Updates: Mobile devices’ operating systems are continually updated to keep pace with the latest threats. These security updates may be offered as smaller “patches” or as a full-blown upgrade to the operating system.

The bottom line: If you’re not running the most up-to-date version and you aren’t proactive about mobile security, you probably aren’t sufficiently protected.