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By Brennen Schmidt
ALEUS Technology Group
and Allan Bonner
Troy Media columnist
One of the great honours for any citizen is to be presented with a key to the city. In today’s digital context, that key might just be in the hand or pocket of your local mayor – and up for grabs for anyone who has the tech skills and desire to get it.
A quick look through your mayor’s mobile device would reveal many things, including emails, text messages, phone calls and a host of apps. The device is likely used in professional and personal activities.
Anyone obtains an unlocked device can wreak havoc. Imagine an email or text sent from the person holding the mayor’s device to the city manager or other administrator. This message could give a specific instruction to shut down a roadway, or bar someone from an access control system such as key fobs and electronic locks.
Why would someone do such a thing? Well, for starters, such an action could be the start of other more nefarious actions. It could result in officials being unable to get to where they need to go in an emergency.
Smaller municipalities without information technology strategies are especially vulnerable. In these cases, mayors and councillors set up personal phones to conduct business. It’s quick, easy and saves the city money.
What if a phone is lost? That device can be used to send emails and texts until a password is changed. It may take hours or days before the device is deactivated.
Such worst-case scenarios can be prevented, no matter the municipality’s size.
It’s possible through such things as mobile device management (MDM). An app on the mayor’s or councillor’s mobile device can force the user to require a passcode, and require that the passcode is changed every now and then. Other features can include a remote wipe, which would enable the IT department to erase the contents of the device entirely if and when reported.
Instead of letting hours or days go by, the IT department can monitor the location and use of mobile devices. Even if the mayor doesn’t know the phone is lost, the IT department will see that it’s in unusual locations or being used at unusual times of the day – perhaps when the mayor is normally in council meetings.
All phones can be monitored for calls to new or unusual numbers, perhaps far out of the jurisdiction. A version of this analysis has been used for years by credit card companies. If you don’t usually buy certain products, in certain locations or for large amounts, this triggers a warning call to you and perhaps even freezes your card.
Technology will do the same for hand-held devices. The more we all use this technology, the more the price will plummet. The costs associated with device management fall as adoption in the corporate sector rises. This is good news for cash-strapped municipalities and ratepayers.
Given this affordability, it’s hard to imagine why such policies are not in place across all North American municipalities. After all, that tiny device in your local official’s pocket may be the master key some people are after. Who knows what can be unlocked.
Our safety rests in devices that may not even be locked up or stored on a keychain.
Dr. Allan Bonner, MSc, DBA, is a crisis manager based in Toronto. His forthcoming book is Cyber City Safe. Brennen Schmidt (BEd, Certiftied PR, CUA) is principal of the ALEUS Technology Group, a boutique digital communications firm in Regina.
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