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Mobile Devices: Safety & Privacy Considerations

Posted on: August 21st, 2013 by Parishweta Bhatt

With the proliferation of mobile devices in our lives and the trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) on campuses, teachers and students need to be more aware of the safety and privacy concerns related to mobile devices.

Users are three times more likely to give out sensitive information on a mobile device and fall prey to security hacks than they are on a computer. According to a 2012 Internet Security Threat Report by Symantec [1], there were roughly 232 million identities exposed due to security breaches in 2011 alone.

Generally, the types of risk that allow security breach fall under one of the following categories [2]:

  1. Personal Habits – Examples include failure to set strong passwords, failure to report lost/stolen mobile device, and failure to back up data regularly.
  2. Device Settings – Examples include disabling security settings for convenience, or jail-breaking/rooting device in order to remove restrictions.
  3. Application Interaction – Examples include failure to understand data requested/shared by third party apps and sharing private data or getting hacked as a result.

Best Practices for Better Security on Mobile Devices

The first and easiest thing you can do is to prevent the theft or loss of your mobile device by keeping the device with you at all times and by not leaving it at insecure public locations. A total of 62 mobile devices, including laptops, tablets, and smartphones were reported lost or stolen from various places on the UM campus according to the University Police Department (UPD) records from July 2012 to June 2013. If your mobile device does get lost or stolen, immediately report it to UPD (915-7234, as well as your service provider including the device’s identifying information such as its serial number. This information can help experts identify or track a lost or stolen mobile device.

Use strong passwords and firewalls to secure data on your mobile device to prevent malicious attacks from viruses. Download and install apps and programs only from trusted sources and always understand app permissions before agreeing to terms and conditions. Be mindful of conducting sensitive transactions like mobile banking etc. on an open and unsecured network such as a restaurant or coffee shop. UM provides free and secure wireless access in most areas on campus which can be accessed using your UM WebID and password.

Make regular data backups from your mobile device on an external hard drive or a cloud based storage service such as Box. For laptops, it is best to use the built-in backup software such as Windows Backup & Restore or Time Machine for Macs along with an external USB drive. For other mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, or e-readers, use the built-in back up functionality that will allow you to make a copy of your data on your computer via the respective manufacturer software such as iTunes for iPhones and iPads, Amazon Kindle etc. You can then make a backup of your mobile contents from the PC to an external USB drive.

UM has also partnered with Box to provide 10GB storage space to every student and employee of the University to store, share, and access files online. To start using UM Box , visit the web site to log in with your UM WebID and password. You can then install Box Sync onto your computer or the Box app onto  your mobile device and sync important folders and files so that they are backed up in the UM Box cloud.

Last but not the least, be sure to wipe or erase all data on your mobile device before donating, reselling, or recycling it. Almost all mobile devices have in-built reset functionality that will allow you to do this securely.

Implications for Teachers

Accessing course content from a mobile device is second nature to the millennial student. Often, students are familiar accessing their course materials on a number of different screens –  traditional computer/laptop, tablet, and smartphone.   This is especially true if you are teaching an online or hybrid course and much of your course content is on UM Blackboard.

Even if you are a traditional instructor teaching a classroom course, you may be using Blackboard to distribute course documents such as PowerPoint slides, video lectures, relevant articles etc. Consequently, it is a good practice to design a mobile-friendly course upfront. For example, instead of embedding videos in your course, you can link to them, thereby reducing the overall size of the page that must be loaded on the screen.

Blackboard Mobile has a helpful guide on how to make your course mobile-friendly along with suggested best practices [3]. Additionally, the offices of Online Design & eLearning and the Faculty Technology Development Center at UM provide valuable support to instructors in the creation of online and hybrid courses.


  1. Internet Security Threat Report: Trends from 2011 by Symantec (April 2012)
  2. Mobile Learning Safety & Privacy webinar by Academic Impressions (June 2013)
    Presenters: Dr. Stephen Baldridge and Dale Pike
  3. Blackboard On Demand Learning Center (



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