August 23, 2009
The movie Little Black Book features a young woman, Stacy, who is frustrated when her boyfriend refuses to share information about his past relationships. When his PDA, a Palm Tungsten C, falls into her hands, she is faced with a conundrum. Does she give it back, or does she explore it? If she gave it back, we wouldn't have a movie, now would we? Stacy then proceeds to identify his ex-girlfriends and contact them. Let the games begin.
Could this really happen? Of course it could. Most PDA's contain a plethora of information about a person and their activities, their digital footprints. People store contact information, appointments, meetings and midnight rendezvous'. They store passwords, login ID's and PIN numbers. They have photos of people they know and sometimes in awkward circumstances. It's a lot to have to explain. The courts are only beginning to grapple with how to handle the content in a PDA. One person's little black book can be very incriminating indeed.
For the rest of us, we have nothing as exotic; however, we are all in danger of exposure and threat. Identify theft has become one of the largest white-collar crimes. There is enough information in the average PDA for someone to take over your life. So, what's the solution? Give up your PDA? No. You face the same problem with the typical day planner. It has all of the same information, it's just not as accessible. In fact, a PDA has certain advantages over a planner. You can password protect some of the data. You can even encrypt data. Most importantly, you have a backup. The data is safely stored on your computer and archived on external media if you have taken the proper steps.
That duplication of data also means an identity thief has more ways to get to it. So, what can you do? Well, the first concern is to make sure that you backup your data. Synchronize your PDA at least daily. I synchronize my Treo 600 2-3 times each day, usually when I arrive at my office or leave it. Backing up your data means that you should be creating a copy on tape, CD, zip disk, flash ROM or other external media and storing it offsite. If you are not, you are asking for trouble and your business is at risk. If your PDA is ever stolen, you will need to restore that data on a new PDA.
Next, you need to minimize the amount of data someone can actually access. Let's face it, if a hacker really wants to get your data, they will succeed. However, not every criminal is a super hacker. Sometimes you just want to keep your information from prying eyes. Just because you labeled something as private in your PDA doesn't mean someone else can't read it. It depends on what application you synchronize with. If you sync with Outlook, records that are private on your PDA may be public in Outlook.
The best way to protect passwords and PIN numbers is to store them in a password application that encrypts the data. The best applications have both a PDA application and a desktop application that allows access to the information from either system. The trouble is converting that data from whatever format it's in currently. I've struggled with this one myself. There is no easy method I've found so far. Just set aside time to copy and paste the data into the password application. It might take a few hours to get that information into a secure application.
If you're worried about someone viewing your schedule, the best approach is to archive your past history periodically. Outlook has settings that allow you to specify to how often calendar events will be archived. This will wipe the history from your PDA also. Archives are usually stored in an external file that can be accessed later.
If you have incriminating photos, delete them. If you want a copy, save it on external media like tape, CD and flash ROM. For contacts, you can archive them or simply move the record to an external file. Outlook allows you to create a .pst file that you can use to save email, calendar, address, tasks, or other information. Once you move a record, it will be removed from your PDA.
And, don't forget to delete the cookies and memory cache on your PDA's web browser. Remember that website you checked out last week? Is that something you want everyone else to know about? I don't think so.
Don't forget physical security; keep an eye on your PDA. It's possible to take steps to protect your data and remove your digital footprints. Protect your little black book and it will protect you.
Rick Cooper, The PDA Pro, is the PDA Coach for productivity anytime, anywhere. He is a national speaker on business productivity and sales. Rick is President of StratAchieve, a company specializing in coaching services to improve productivity and increase revenues. For more information, visit his website at www.thepdapro.com or call (800) 677-6708.