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Protecting Your BlackBerry

4 Steps to Securing the Data on Your Handheld

By

What's in your BlackBerry?

Every time you slip that device out of its holster - even if its just for a quick game of BrickBreaker - remember that you're holding a storehouse of personal information, and most likely an access point into your company network.

We've gotten so addicted to those handheld devices, its no wonder they've picked up the nickname, "CrackBerry." But, along with the added convenience and productivity, they've also blessed us with some heightened security risks. Here are four things that you can do to make your BlackBerry safer.

Don't Lose It

I know that sounds ridiculously simple. But a survery released in 2005 reported that 160,000 portable devices are left in Chicago Taxis every year. One of the things that makes your BlackBerry so convenient - its size - also makes it simple to misplace. Fortunately, this is a security risk with a simple, low-tech solution. Put the device back in your holster or purse. Every time.

Use a Password

Odds are, in spite of my sage advice, you'll leave the BlackBerry behind at some point. And when you do, you'll heave a sigh of relief knowing that your data is password protected. To set a password, simply go to Options > Security Options > General Settings and set Password to Enabled. You can also decide how long the device sits idle before it locks up. I keep mine set at 30 minutes. That's short enough so that if I do lose it, the device should be locked by the time someone picks it up. One sanity tip: If you're using a device like a Pearl that has a multi-tap keyboard, try to come up with a password that only requires one tap on each key.

Enable Content Protection

If you are using a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, then the data that flies back and forth between your handheld and the server is encrypted. The data stored on your handheld is a different story.

Content Protection will encrypt your emails and other content stored in the machine. By choosing this option, you will be protected if someone were to connect the device to a USB port and attempt to read its memory. To enable Content Protection, go to Options > Security Options > General Settings. Set Content Protection to Enabled. You have the choice of applying Content Protection to your Address Book. If you do, you will lose the Caller ID function, so you will have to decide if the risk outweighs the inconvenience.

If you decide to encrypt the files stored on your media card, you have three choices. Here they are as described by the good folks from RIM:

To encrypt files on a media card inserted in the BlackBerry smartphone, complete the following steps:

Note: In order to encrypt files using the BlackBerry smartphone password, verify that the password is set before you begin the steps below.

  1. On the Home screen of the BlackBerry smartphone, click Options.
  2. Click Media Card or click Advanced Options > Media Card (depending on the BlackBerry Device Software version that is installed on the BlackBerry smartphone).
  3. Use one of the following methods to encrypt files:
    • To encrypt files using an encryption key for a media card generated by the BlackBerry smartphone, set the Encryption Mode field to Device.
    • To encrypt files using the BlackBerry smartphone password, set the Encryption Mode field to Security Password.
    • To encrypt files using an encryption key for a media card and the BlackBerry smartphone password, set the Encryption Mode field to Security Password & Device.

      Note: To turn off encryption for a media card, set the Encryption Mode field to None.

  4. To encrypt media files such as videos, ring tones, pictures, and songs on the media card, set Encrypt Media Files to Yes.
  5. Press the Menu key.
  6. Click Save.

Wipe the Device Before You Sell It

The time will come when you want to trade up, and the BlackBerry you love so well will be consigned to eBay. Before that happens, make sure you wipe the device clean.

During the 2008 Presidential Election, the McCain Campaign sold some leftover BlackBerries for $20 each. They also decided to throw in some confidential campaign data for free. A reporter who purchased a BargainBerry got a peek at the inner workings of a campaign by reading the emails left in memory. He also found a contact list full of McCain supporters. No damaging information squirted out, but needless to say the campaign was red-faced. All you have to do to avoid this embarrasment is go to Options > Security Options > General Settings. While you are there, hit the Menu Key and select Wipe Handheld. The prompts will guide you through the rest of the process.

Conclusion

In my experience, most security threats are the result of simple negligence, not technological failures. None of the steps I've outlined here require advanced knowledge. But if you follow them, you will have greatly improved your handheld security.

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