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Contributing writer

London Olympics, smartphones make for huge data breach

Jul 24, 20124 mins
DLP SoftwareMobile SecurityPrivacy

Expected device loss at 2012 Summer Games expected to amount to 214.4 terabytes of data

About 214 million books worth of corporate and personal data are expected to go missing during the Summer Olympics in London, estimates Venafi, a vendor of Enterprise Key and Certificate Management (EKCM) solutions.

As massive as that potential loss is, however, it is nothing out of the ordinary. More than two-thirds of that amount of data are lost or stolen during any typical two-week period in London.

Perhaps the only good news in the Venafi analysis is that it shows no clear evidence of greater risk of theft at the Olympics — the estimate is based on the fact that there will be more people in the city during the event, which runs 17 days, from Friday, July 27 to Sunday, Aug. 12.

Venafi estimates that 67,000 phones will be lost or stolen during the Olympics, that about 40% of them will be smartphones, and that those phones will have a capacity of at least eight gigabytes, which would equal about 214.4 terabytes of data.

But that estimate is based on the fact that about 50,000 phones are lost or stolen in the London area during an average two-week period. The number of passengers riding the city’s mass transit system is expected to increase by a third, or about one million a day, leading to the estimate of 67,000 phones.

Gregory Webb, vice president of marketing at Venafi, acknowledged that the estimate did not indicate a higher statistical threat of theft. But he said it is still worthwhile to warn those attending the Olympics. “People tend to be less focused on security, and would-be hackers are on the lookout for easy prey,” he said.

Webb also said the statistics do not break down the percentages of devices that are lost as opposed to stolen, but said the risk is the same. “The likelihood of that device and data being taken care of is very low.”

Low, but not nonexistent. Graham Cluley of Sophos, in a post on the company’s Naked Security blog, wrote last week of a sting operation by British police in the Sussex towns of Hastings and St Leonard’s, in which officers placed “bait” phones embedded with tracking devices in nine pubs and bars, and none of them were stolen.

“Nearly all of them were spotted by honest customers and handed in to door staff and bar management,” Cluley wrote.

Of course, that wasn’t in London, and Cluley said he wouldn’t assume this is a trend. “Sadly, I wouldn’t bank on it,” he wrote.

Cluley told CSO Online: “I know the authorities have warned that they are expecting an increasing number of pickpockets in London over the coming weeks, taking advantage of the influx of visitors.”

Another factor that heightens the risk for enterprises, Gregory Webb said, is the explosion of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), meaning more people than ever are carrying smartphones with work-related data on it.

“People don’t consider or take action to protect the vast volumes of information they carry and have Internet access to,” he said. “With the ever-shrinking boundaries between work devices and work-enabled personal devices, lost or stolen smartphones and other mobile devices that fall into the wrong hands place companies and business data at tremendous risk.”

Webb said it is true that many companies are addressing that risk, by making sure employees mobile devices are equipped with encryption software and remote wiping capability in the event they are lost or stolen.

But he said there is still a significant lack of awareness of good security practices. He said one company was preparing to deploy 15,000 iPads, which come with individual digital certificates, and the company leaders decided it would be more convenient to issue the same certificate to all 15,000 of them.

“Obviously, I’m in the enterprise key and certificate management business, but the best practice really is good encryption and multi-factor authentication. When those best practices are followed, it decreases the risk significantly,” he said.

So is there anything specific that individuals can do to protect their devices? “What’s required for the end user is vigilance,” Webb said. “Attackers want to take advantage of the fact that there is more chaos. So you need to protect your device just like you’d protect any other vital asset.”