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Should you be afraid of text messages?

Maria Korolov | April 2, 2015
Text messaging is just the tip of the iceberg.

text msg

Are you worried about hackers stealing millions of your customer records? According to one security vendor, you should be more worried about your employees spilling corporate secrets via text message, 160 characters at a time.

"Texting is growing faster than email on mobile devices," said PJ Gupta, CEO at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Amtel, Inc. "There are employees using WhatsApp to send information to clients. We don't know what servers that information is going through."

According to a survey by HeyWire, Inc., another provider of secure enterprise messaging, 70 percent of corporate employees send messages for work — and 50 percent of the time, they're sending messages to customers.

In fact, over 33 percent of business texters say that they've closed a business deal via this channel.

"It is really important to secure that texting," said Gupta.

However, he could not point to any major breaches that involved text messages.

According to the 2014 Verizon breach report, internal actors accounted for about 10 percent of all breaches, and, of those, about 11 percent — or 112 breaches total — involved the mishandling of data. But that involved everything from taking data home on USB sticks, to emailing documents to a personal account, to writing down customer credit card numbers on paper.

According to Gupta, even if actual losses aren't significant, there are still compliance concerns, especially for the finance, health and law enforcement industries.

However, he could not point to any regulatory actions relating to text messages, and admitted that they currently fall into a gray area that may, someday, draw the attention of regulators.

"Companies need to be prepared for when it is," he said.

Other security experts had a broader perspective on the issue of text messages.

"CSOs can't afford to ignore the reality that text messaging is a valid communications channel in the business world today," said HeyWire CEO Meredith Flynn-Ripley. "It's a channel that is only going to continue to grow in the mobile-centric world we all live in."

But it's no more dangerous than email or any other type of business communication, she added.

"What is dangerous is if your corporate data retention or BYOD policies don't consider text in the mix," she said.

Text messages just the tip of the BYOB iceberg

Unencrypted text messages could potentially pose a problem, but it is a tiny one compared to everything else that a personal smartphone could do in the workplace.

"The reality is that a lot of corporate users configure their personal smartphones to do things like check their e-mail, log onto corporate employee only services and access two-factor authentication services," said Adam Kujawa, head of malware intelligence at San Jose, Calif.-based Malwarebytes Corp. "If an attacker were able to install malware on said smartphone they could obtain information like e-mail credentials, corporate contacts and then of course any kind of juicy info they could get from the e-mail itself."


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