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For all devices I know of, if a device is lost or stolen, it needs to be connected to the Cellular network to receive the wipe command. Considering that the end user often needs to regain mobile service as soon as possible, there is a delay between when they activate a new phone (thus disabling the old phone's service) and when the wipe command is issued by IT and received by the old device.

What processes, or mechanisms do you have in place to ensure the confidentiality of a mobile device's data that account for this situation?

Please include process or technological solutions that are device, vendor, or protocol (ActiveSync) specific. For example, I'd be interested in a solution someone may have with Verizon that puts a notice on the account that prevents the purchase of a new SIM unless IT was notified or approved.

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4 Answers

I got to know that nowadays you have different levels of deleting information on the device. As you have mentioned the full device and that would heavily rely on the Operating System and the network provider. Others, as I have done, are at the application level. If you have developed an application that has confidential data, you can either develop it using native code and then you must rely on OS wiping or using platforms like Sybase Unwired Platform, that allows such wiping capabilities ONCE you are connected to the internet. I haven't tested this option yet in Sybase Unwired Plaftorm but the manual says it works :D

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For all devices I know of, if a device is lost or stolen, it needs to be connected to the Cellular network to receive the wipe command.

My understanding is this is no longer true (for Blackberry at least). The remote wipe can be triggered if the device fails to call home in a certain period, or (less interestingly) if an invalid passcode is entered N times (though that's been the case for a while).

I guess the 'wipe if can't call home' countermeasure may still be vulnerable to something like taking the battery out and physically attacking the memory but this does raise the bar a lot IMO.

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After reading your question MORE carefully, I would say the only solution would be to encrypt your Blackberry. From a site I found:

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.

Read this pdf from Blackberry "Enforcing encryption of internal and external file systems on BlackBerry devices"

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correct, you can't rely on a wipe, you have to use encryption, preferably with some type of 3rd party device such as a ironkey dongle (not sure if they exist for blackberry). –  Anonymous Type Feb 11 '11 at 4:09
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There are folks on here who will be able to answer the technical perspective on these things way better than I, but the biggest issue I see in most organisations is the delay from when the user loses the device or has it stolen, and when they report it to IT. This is a procedural issue which corporate culture typically generates.

The solution we find that works best is to avoid placing personal blame on the individual for losing a device, but just to make it very quick and easy for them to report it so it can immediately be disabled and wiped. If done quick enough, the wipe command can be sent to the device before casual attackers may have gained access to the data, and in any case will prevent the SIM being used.

The big worry, and I'm sure @RoryMccune or @GrahamLee will describe this fully, is that the assumption should always be : if the attacker has the device, they have access to the data on it. Yes, there are third party tools to make this harder, but a determined attacker can always prevent a wipe (by not allowing the device to get a signal - no wipe command)

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Agreed. If I have your device and have to deal with it offline (e.g. I don't know the passphrase), then I can't access the data. I could copy the encrypted FS and try offline attacks on my own terms, but that would take effectively forever. If I can deal with the device in an online fashion (e.g. there is no passphrase), then you're in a race against me to send the wipe command before I retrieve the useful data. –  user185 Feb 16 '11 at 16:18
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