IT recycling: In most cases, it’s laudable. But look what happened when the McCain-Palin campaign, as part of the process of closing up shop in the wake of the presidential election, unloaded a bunch of Blackberries at a bargain price of $20 each to any takers.
A Blackberry at $20? Who wouldn't be a taker?
Under any set of circumstances this is a great deal, but what makes this great deal an exceptional one is the fact that these Blackberries, made available to anyone with $20, had not been wiped clean of their data. And a few of the buyers just happened to be reporters, ready to examine the contents of the Contacts file.
What sort of data might you find on a Blackberry or any other cellphone these days? Phone numbers of course, but the smarter smart phones may also have notes associated with those phone numbers; photographs; Internet histories, including URLs visited and Google searches; and a ton of info that we storage folk often categorize as "unstructured data.”
The smarter the phone, of course, the greater the potential danger if it goes astray.
Take my phone for instance, which is probably smarter than it needs to be.
First, it doubles as a PDA (which is tied in to my Outlook client, and therefore has access to my corporate email server). Second, thanks to the magic of the Windows Mobile operating system, it can run dumbed-down versions of the Microsoft Office suite, and so can read all sorts of data, should I choose to fill up the 4-gigabyte memory card that I’ve stuffed into the thing.
I happen to have a pretty innocuous set of data on my phone: pics of the kiddies, this week's taste in music (They Might Be Giants and Pink Floyd), and a few interesting ringtones. But with the applications I can run on this thing, I could just as easily have a list of key clients from the corporate database or the latest PowerPoint that lists every objective in next year's corporate strategy. All that, and potentially so much more, on a micro-SD card smaller than a fingernail.
What does all this have to do with IT, you ask? Just this: Most IT managers would never send a disk drive out to the trashcan or the asset recovery department unless it had been shredded -- or at the very least, wiped clean of data and then reformatted or defragmented. And they live in horror of laptops being lost or stolen. Many IT departments are taking steps to encrypt any data that has the potential to go astray.
Why then not apply the same level of oversight to cellphones or PDAs?
Even without memory cards in them, mobile phones can carry a lot of important information, data that goes pretty much unmonitored and unregulated by any corporation's IT management. And how many Blackberries go missing each year? I have no idea, but I’ll bet it’s more than six.
Cellphones have not historically fallen within the IT department’s set of responsibilities. As phones continue to get more intelligent, and consequently, as they continue to carry more data, this is a situation that may need to change.
Meanwhile, I suppose the message here for all of us may be that just because you can see Russia from your front porch does not mean you shouldn’t keep a close eye on things closer to hand.
— Mike Karp, is an IT consultant in the Boston area.