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BusinessDay: Robust steps needed to ensure smartphones stay safe in boardroom talks

Devices can be tools for covert surveillance, posing significant risks to corporate confidentiality.

By Johan Steyn, 31 January 2024

In the digitally connected age, the boardroom, a bastion of strategic decision-making, faces an unprecedented threat from a seemingly innocuous source — the smartphone. These devices, integral to our daily communication, have become potential tools for covert surveillance, posing significant risks to corporate confidentiality. 

While the devices are celebrated for their convenience and connectivity, they simultaneously pose a significant risk for unintended surveillance in the boardroom. Smartphones, often carried into meetings without a second thought, can inadvertently become channels for the leakage of sensitive information. And when connected to unsecured Wi-Fi networks — a common occurrence for mobile users — the devices become vulnerable to interception, especially during virtual meetings in which confidential discussions are prevalent.

Advancements in technology have played into the hands of corporate spies. Modern spyware, stealthy and hard to detect, can transform a smartphone into a sophisticated eavesdropping tool. This software can covertly capture and transmit boardroom conversations to external entities, bypassing even the most robust security features.

The risk of hacking remains ever-present, too. Skilled hackers, exploiting vulnerabilities, can remotely access a phone’s camera and microphone, turning it into a device for real-time espionage, unbeknown to its owner.

To safeguard the sanctity of boardroom discussions in this era of digital ubiquity, a series of robust measures must be adopted.

Secure communication protocols are paramount. Board members should be encouraged, or even mandated, to use encrypted messaging apps and secure communication channels for discussing sensitive topics. This ensures that even if a device is compromised, the confidentiality of the information remains intact. Complementing this, regular security audits of board members’ smartphones are crucial. 

Designated devices

Implementation of stringent device management policies forms the cornerstone of a proactive defence strategy. These policies should require the use of strong, frequently changed passwords, with biometric security features and regular software updates, significantly diminishing the risk of unauthorised access. Continuing cybersecurity training for board members is imperative. Such training should keep them abreast of the latest digital threats, particularly those targeting mobile devices, and reinforce the importance of constant vigilance in digital communication.

Another effective strategy involves providing board members with designated devices to be used exclusively for board meetings. These devices, equipped with the highest security settings, should be securely stored when not in use, ensuring they remain untainted by external security threats. In scenarios in which the risk is exceptionally high, physical security enhancements such as the use of signal jammers or Faraday cages can be employed to prevent external surveillance attempts through smartphones. However, it is crucial that these measures comply with legal and ethical standards.

All these security measures must be aligned with legal and privacy regulations. Establishing clear policies for the handling and storage of sensitive information, applicable to personal and corporate devices, ensures not only the security of the data, but also the legal compliance of the methods used to protect it.

This holistic approach to boardroom security, combining technology, policy, and training, is essential in creating an environment in which strategic discussions can occur without the looming threat of digital espionage.


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