Canada: Cyber Liability: Remote Access & Mobile Device Security

Last Updated: June 3 2016
Article by Laura Emmett


A company's worst nightmare is where documents have been leaked and clients' confidential information has been exposed for all to see. Just recently, this nightmare became a reality for Mossack Fonseca & Co, a business providing legal and trust services based in the Republic of Panama. As reported by the media, 11.5 million documents detailing confidential transactions involving their clients were leaked. Creating an enormous frenzy, these infamous documents are now being referred to as the Panama Papers. Although the source of the leak is said to have come from an anonymous source that sent an email to a German newspaper, how that source came into contact with information is still unknown. Regardless of whether criminal charges are filed in conjunction with the Panama Papers, the breach will have a significant impact on the company's reputation. Most likely, the business will face civil liability as a result of the disclosure of the confidential information.

The Panama Papers serve as a pressing example as to the importance of securing all points of entry to sensitive information. Companies need to engage in ongoing assessments to ensure they do not become the next headline. When a business assesses their cyber security, the company needs to consider all points of entry to their system. Particular areas that companies often neglect in assessing their information security are the remote points of access to their sensitive information as well as their employees' use of mobile devices.

Remote Access

With the advancements in technology, there has been a resulting increase in the rate of employees who work from home. This is likely because with technological improvements, many things that you were once only able to do at work, can now be done from the comfort of your home. Clearly the ability to work from home provides a convenience to employees, and an incentive for employers, as employees can continue to be productive after the official business hours of the day are done. However, despite the seemingly numerous benefits associated with remote access, working from home can introduce additional risks for the company.

Most people have more than one device in their home which connects to the internet. As such, a device called a "router" is required so that more than one device can access the internet at a time. The computer, laptop, or mobile device, will transmit information across a Wi-Fi network which will transmit that information to the router. This Wi-Fi network is what allows multiple devices to connect to the internet at the same time. Unfortunately, this Wi-Fi network can also be accessible by other users. Just how accessible the Wi-Fi network is depends on whether a password has been implemented. Even if the router is password protected, the complexity of the password will impact its ability to be hacked. Therefore, when an employee works from home using their Wi-Fi network, the company's sensitive information may be vulnerable to potential hackers who could be monitoring the home network connection. This presents a serious concern to any business that allows an employee to access to their secured system from home.

These same risks are heightened when employees carry or have access to their company's sensitive information while abroad. Many public places, such as restaurants, cafes, and shopping centers offer free Wi-Fi for their customers. Although this may be very enticing, it does not provide a secure way for the employee to access and transmit the sensitive information.

Mobile Devices

A further point of entry to an information security system is through the use of mobile devices. If mobile devices are required, the company should ensure that business-only mobile devices are provided to the employee to (1) guarantee that the proper security systems are installed and (2) to protect any sensitive information which may be transmitted through the device. Regardless of these precautions, there is the additional risk that the employee may use the business-mobile for personal use. Activities like installing a non-business application on the mobile device could expose the company to a breach of the security system and access by a third party to sensitive information. Therefore, businesses need to ensure that employees receive extensive training on the proper use of these devices and that they cannot be used outside of those purposes. A company should also give further consideration as to whether the mobile devices can be locked when not in use and whether they can be accessed and controlled remotely in the event that certain functions need to be blocked, or the mobile device is stolen.

Portable Hard Drives

An often overlooked and forgotten point of entry to a company's information security system is through the use of portable hard drives. This chance of risk is especially heightened in situations where employees are encouraged or allowed to work from home, and therefore require a way to transport the data to and from home. Often e-mails are not a practical option to send larger documents, and this necessitates the use of a portable hard drive. Although these devices facilitate the process of working remotely, the use of portable devices can expose a company to additional cyber-security threats. A serious concern is the uploading of documents from a portable hard drive on to a work computer, as there is a risk of infection of malware. A further concern is presented during the actual transport of the portable hard drive. In the event that the employee misplaces the portable device, or the device is stolen, all of the information on the portable hard drive is also lost or stolen. If the portable device is not encrypted or password protected, then anyone can access the information. If sensitive information is on the device, then this results in yet another breach of the company's information security system.


The various points of access to a company's sensitive information, some of which are described above, highlight the importance of developing a cyber-security policy within each business. Additionally, within that policy, there should be specific rules relating to each device, outlining the terms of use of that particular device. The implementation of a cyber-security policy is just part of the investment that needs to be made in employees for a company to have effective cyber security system. Overall, the more awareness created around the importance of cyber security and the clearer the company's policy on how devices are to be used and stored, the more likely that the company will have success in ensuring their employees do not pose a threat to the company's information security.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Laura Emmett
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