Author—Kristi Perdue Hinkle

Recently while in a coffee shop, I overheard someone talking on their phone. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, however, as I waited for my coffee various words kept grabbing my attention. The gentleman behind me was discussing a problem with his company’s internal IT systems. I was unable to determine what had happened but I gathered it was quite serious and career limiting if not solved soon. As I walked away with my coffee I casually glanced and saw a company name on the person’s bag. I was quietly happy that I didn’t own stock in THAT company and equally surprised that he was sharing such confidential information so freely in such a public environment.

The truth is, what I encountered happens every day. People engage in conversations over phones in public areas without a thought to who can overhear, or about the potential consequences. There is a blind faith that privacy is somehow granted by being surrounded by strangers. That privacy is often valid, however, strangers don’t always equal safety.

Business travel is a necessity. And those of us who travel a lot see this occur time and time again. Whether for large conferences, year-end events or even sporting events it is likely that many airports, planes, hotels and conference centers will attract multiple people with converging interests in near proximity to each other. There will be several conversations taking place that will be overheard by someone who can understand and benefit from the conversation. Adding to complexity of business communications while traveling abroad or to less secure locations is now a completely new communication consideration as surveillance and espionage have become “common” concerns that every organization must also address.

The need to communicate quickly and securely is not a phenomenon restricted to the traveling business professional. Doctors in hospitals and home health care professionals are often in any number of locations when they need a quick consult to aid in patient care. These conversations must remain private and secure to meet HIPAA guidelines as well as patient expectations of privacy. Similarly, most lawyers have now gone mobile. As they take their conversations to the airport, coffee shop and courthouse lawyers must ensure that attorney-client privilege is maintained.

The Texting Revolution. To solve this problem, many have switched to texting to ensure real-time, secure and private communications while mobile. Messaging is useful as it allows for a quick response without a chance of being overheard, having to find a private area in a crowded location or having to excuse yourself from a meeting. When combined with pictures, PDFs and videos, text messaging for business becomes even more powerful as a collaboration tool that allows for rapid response and knowledge sharing.

Due to these reasons and many more, messaging has quickly taken hold as a fast way to get time-sensitive questions answered. In fact, many are calling text the new email. It is impressive how its use has moved its way through society to become a de facto method of getting answers in the moment. Texts are almost always answered, while email, phone and voice mail have gone to the way of “only the most important get returned”. According to the 2015 Mobile Marketing Watch, Text messages have a 98% open rate, while email has only a 20% open rate. Even more interesting is that text has a 45% response rate, while email only has a 6% response rate. These numbers speak volumes and make text messaging for business very appealing. Despite policies that disallow texting, BYOD has introduced text into the enterprise for efficiency purposes alone.

Of course, this has raised the issues of security as phones are insecure devices – they just are. Even Apple’s encryption isn’t flawless as the FBI paid hackers to break into the iPhone of the San Bernardino gunman case proved. While most people’s phones are unlikely to be a target for that level of effort, most people don’t fully utilize the full security features of their devices. In fact, studies have consistently shown that an alarming 39% of mobile device owners do not even password protect their devices. Basic steps should be taken to protect corporate data through security best practices.

But what else should be done?

Secure Texting for Business. Business professionals must ensure that chats are secure at all times. Native SMS text presents its own security and privacy issues. In our world of cybercrime run by bad actors, not utilizing the appropriate technology is no longer acceptable. Secure texting should be enabled, not just through encryption, but via a secure, ephemeral and compliant app that removes chats from the device once the information is no longer needed. The immediacy that messaging provides is coupled with the temporal nature of the messages. Messages are not often needed a week, or even days, later. Having that information stick around provides no value to the person receiving it. As an example, for a doctor, an image tells a thousand words when needing to answering a question about a patient. Once that question is answered the picture is no longer needed. Ephemerality removes the messages from all devices, protecting against stolen or lost device concerns while protecting patient privacy.

Text messaging for business, must also consider the sensitivity of the information as well as any privacy laws and regulations that may come into play. In these cases, secure messaging must also protect the information discussed and record it in a firewalled repository of record. As in the example above, the picture and chat would be store in the patients record in the EHR. Messages will still be purged from individual devices to ensure patient privacy and security, however, compliance requirements are met to effectively meet enterprise needs.

Bottom Line. Messaging is continuing to evolve with new features, becoming even more useful. It is important to take secure mobile messaging into account as part of an organizations overall collaboration and communication strategy. It is becoming part of our cultural DNA and organizations need to make sure that important conversations aren’t casually, or intentionally, observed by external parties or bad actors that can cause reputation or financial damage.

Considering our world of increasing cybercrime and hyper-sensitive media, it is important for organizations to answer three very important questions prior to deploying enterprise text messaging for their business.

  1. Do your employees know what they should and should not do when it comes to communicating via mobile devices (verbal and text) about corporate business?
  2. Do you have policies and training in place for how employees should communicate in this new world of mobility?
  3. Do you have employees who travel internationally or to less secure locations? Do you have protocols in place to ensure secure, confidential and compliant communications?
  4. Are you using the right technology to ensure that mobile text communications are kept secure, confidential and compliant?

If you would like to find out more about secure, ephemeral and compliant messaging read our latest whitepaper, or contact us to hear how Vaporstream can empower your teams with secure text messaging for your business.