Avoiding remote control chaos

For every high-tech eureka, it seems the IT industry has to work its tail off to solve problems stemming from said great idea. This month’s hot notion comes from Toshiba Corp. The company developed software that lets computer users control their PCs by cell phone.

Dubbed Ubiquitous Viewer, the app presents a miniaturized version of the user’s computer on his handset. It lets users access e-mail messages stored on their PCs. It lets them edit documents.

According to an IDG News story about it, Ubiquitous Viewer is meant for corporate users. Toshiba, working with a mobile carrier in Japan on this software, didn’t talk about international sales opportunities, nor did it mention a price.

Perhaps Toshiba didn’t mention a price because the company knows this application could cost enterprises dearly. Whatever productivity gains it offers would soon be overshadowed by an enormous cost of ownership.

It won’t be long before some IT trade publication picks up on the tale of a Ubiquitous Viewer user who left his cell phone in the back of a taxi, and later learned someone used the handset to glean company secrets from his in-office computer.

The magazine would likely follow up with articles full of advice from high-tech security experts expounding the importance of passwords in the least and encryption at best to keep such things from happening elsewhere. Inevitably comes the question: what should the victim’s IT department have done to protect the information? Then comes the easy answer: don’t let business people use software that the IT department hasn’t approved; control your tech inventory, IT managers.

This, as users increasingly ignore company policies and employ cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other electronic baubles for e-mail and doc toting without the under-budgeted IT department’s consent or knowledge, is not particularly helpful.

Here’s what would help: tech vendors like Toshiba should bear in mind the consequences of their avant garde products before unleashing these potential time bombs on users. Follow up the sales pitch with some words of caution for the silicon-smitten exec with a gleam in his eye for the industry’s latest, greatest invention. Help users understand that a certain level of responsible behaviour is required. And for Pete’s sake, ship the software with swords drawn — all security measures armed. Lock the user out of configuration functions until she chooses a password other than the default “admin,” for instance.

Such forward thinking on Toshiba’s part might cut down on the amount of work the rest of the industry would have to put into this project on the security side of the equation — work that often comes only after some end user lets slip his phone and his company’s strategic advantage with it. It certainly would make many an IT manager’s job easier. Eureka.

QuickLink: 051424

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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