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Smartphones and social networks as a security enabler

Mar 15, 20113 mins
Data and Information Security

We focus a lot on the security ills of mobile devices and social networks. But as the tragedy in Japan demonstrates, these things can also be a security life-saver.

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The first example comes by way of a story from my colleague James Niccolai of the IDG News Service about how people relied on Twitter for information immediately following the quake and tsunami. He wrote:

Twitter has been a lifeline for Westerners both inside and outside of Japan as they try to keep up with fast-moving events following Friday’s massive earthquake and the tsunami that followed.

The social networking service has often been the fastest way for non-Japanese speakers in the country to learn what is being said at government press conferences and in news reports carried by NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting service.

The events unfolding at a nuclear power plant in the Fukushima prefecture were of particular concern, especially after NHK carried alarming footage Saturday of a large explosion that destroyed the top of the reactor building.

Japanese officials held press conferences broadcast live on television later in the day and Twitter users including several Western journalists tweeted the main points in English as they were delivered, before stories had appeared from outlets like Reuters and view of latest business threats. We created it for you! Bookmark it! Use it!

CSO’s Daily Dashboard gives you a

The second example comes from my colleague Mike Elgan over at Computerworld, who wrote about new smartphone apps that can be critical in a disaster:

The massive earthquake in Japan was a perfect example (of the importance of mobile devices). Power was cut for millions of people, which meant that TVs and radios were useless for getting emergency instructions. And phone lines were overwhelmed by people trying to call each other. To keep the lines available for emergency crews, the Japanese carriers placed restrictions on 80% of the voice traffic. When most people tried to call, the lines were dead.

That’s why smartphones are so useful during an emergency. They have their own batteries, and they have Internet connections that function even when phone service is interrupted. Best of all, smartphones have smart apps that can give you lifesaving capabilities.

His article describes some of the apps available for emergencies, including BuddyGuard, Disaster Caster and Emergency Radio.

Some security practitioners have been critical of Twitter and other social networking programs in the past for giving away geographical information on the user. Most of the time, the user reveals too much about where they are and what they are doing, which is gold for, say, kidnappers.

But when you’re trapped in a collapsed building, such a thing can be the difference between life and death.

It just goes to show that there’s a good and bad side to just about any form of technology. The bad guys will always look for ways to hurt people, but the good guys will always turn it into a tool for saving lives and property.

–Bill Brenner