Bad romance? Canadian companies and BYOD

A lover’s quarrel is the kind of thing you tend to keep out of the office, but within the smartphones and tablets of many companies lies the dangerous potential for jealous revenge to erupt.

Just as many of us begin thinking about our plans for Valentine’s Day next week, computer security firm McAfee Canada has published the results of a survey which show just how much NSFW content is being passed back and forth across digital devices. According to the survey, one in 10 Canadian adults film sexual content on their mobile devices and 16 per cent of respondents said they have sent racy or sexual content to a total stranger. Perhaps even worse, 11 per cent have had personal content leaked online.

“I speak of this issue almost daily,” says Robert Siciliano, online security and safety evangelist at McAfee Canada. “Keep in mind that digital is forever, digital is repeatable. Once you send it, you don’t have any control over it.”

Of course, McAfee is capitalizing on Valentine’s Day to encourage the use of its security products, and I’m not completely prepared to accept the implication it suggests that former lovers target their exes by exposing digital content in large numbers. What’s more concerning is the fact that if all this “sexting” and other stuff is going on with users who leave devices and accounts unprotected (22 per cent said they share passwords), what happens as more of those personal devices get used for professional purposes via bring your own device (BYOD) policies?

“The BYOD is becoming BYOI -- bring your own infection,” Siciliano says flatly. “That’s an issue. It infects the corporate network in a way that can give a criminal remote access to company and client data. That is what can result in a data breach or leakage, whether it might be client information or proprietary data and so forth.”

In other words, if you’re careless with how you send information or protect your device for the fun stuff (only 65 per cent even use passwords, the study said), what can businesses expect when employees are using mobile technology to handle the work stuff? These are where the security holes start. And before you point fingers at Millennials, McAfee said they are not the only ones who need a wake-up call.

“It’s amazing to me that those in their 50s and 60s are sexting as much as those in their teens and 20s,” Siciliano says. “They’re just adult children, basically, that haven’t grown up, and some of them never do.”

The funny thing is, BYOD policies have only been developed recently because consumers have been telling their employers that, in exchange for increased flexibility around device and application use, they can be trusted. For years, however, security experts have said current and former employees often represent the “enemy within” that cause many data breaches.

The McAfee survey, meanwhile, said 98 per cent of Canadians trust their significant other not to share the risqué content they’re sending. I suspect that in many cases, the trust employers put in their staff isn’t nearly as high -- BYOD is more of a leap of faith.

Companies might not realize that when they move ahead with BYOD, they’re not merely counting on their employees to act properly. They’re also extending that trust to employees’ spouses and partners. It may not sound very romantic, but businesses should probably prepare for the fact that, depending on how some of these love stories end, their corporate networks may share in the heartbreak, too.

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