How to Minimise the Risk of Device Theft at Events

The British Airways data breach last week is a good reminder to us all as to why data security is such an important issue for anyone dealing with personal information – and the events industry is no exception here.  And though this incident was specific to a hacking attack, there are many other ways in which breaches can occur.  One simple one is device theft.

A recent report on Forbes found that a laptop is stolen every 53 seconds and more than 70 million mobile phones are lost each year.  And here’s the interesting bit for event planners – a remarkable 24% of devices are stolen from conferences!

So why is device theft more of an issue in our industry today and what steps can organisers take to prevent valuable attendee data from getting into the wrong hands?

9 Practical Steps to Reduce Loss from Device Theft Around Events

Data security and the theft of devices has always been a big issue. However, the recent GDPR requirements have played a key role in bringing heightened levels of awareness to a lot of people across the events industry.   In fact, a 2018 research study by Eventsforce found that 81% of event planners believed that the security of their attendee data was a much bigger priority for them because of GDPR.

This can only be a good thing. The volume of personal information we deal with in our industry is staggering.  And doing things that minimises the risks of breach will not only keep you out of trouble with regards to GDPR, but it will also give your attendees confidence that you’re on the case and looking after them properly. And more importantly, that their trust matters to you and your organisation.

Read: 8 Bad Data Security Habits Event Planners Should Quit

Mobile devices such as laptops, tablets and Smartphones play a vital role in events – they also carry a lot of sensitive information around attendees. As such, the security of mobile devices becomes even more important under GDPR.

Have a look below at some practical steps you can take to minimise the risks of device theft around your events:

1. Be Clear on Responsibility

Just because your crew, attendees, speakers and stakeholders have arrived at your event, doesn’t mean they are absolved from looking after their own devices. It isn’t your responsibility. In their journey to your event, they will have taken care that their device (laptop, smartphone, tablet etc.) was kept secure. This same care needs to carry on. It is always worth reminding people of this.

2. Secure Your Venue Space

Secure the venue space that you have hired. It doesn’t matter if it is small or large. Do all you can to ensure that the doors are locked when rooms are not in use.  Ensure that you are clear who is allowed into your part of the venue.  Basically, apply the same principles as you would at home. You wouldn’t go out without locking your doors and you certainly wouldn’t let anyone you didn’t know into your home. Apply this discipline at your event and you will minimise your risks.

3. Always Stay Vigilant

Linked to the point above is the task of staying vigilant. This will not always be easy. But, it’s essential that you know who people are. Should they be in your area? Are they up to no good? Maybe they are cleaners, crew and others that are just doing their job. If in doubt, talk to the venue staff, your production crew or other team members. Find out who they are. Do not assume anything.

4. Use Passwords and Locks on Devices

Whatever mobile device you are using around your events, the best defence against theft is prevention. Leaving your laptop out in the open whilst you are elsewhere is not good (think registration desks). Many thieves will see this as a great opportunity to slip in and grab the device. Keep your laptop with you.  Additionally, make sure you have passwords on your devices. You may wish to use biometric tools or even physical locks on your laptop as an extra deterrent.  As mentioned earlier, a laptop is stolen every 53 seconds!

5. Separate Memory Sticks from Laptops

As a general piece of advice, don’t use memory sticks as they always impose a security risk in terms of data loss or theft. If you do use one, make sure you unplug it from your laptop when not in use. Otherwise if your laptop is stolen, the memory stick(s) will go with it. Memory sticks can contain a huge amount of sensitive event information that you wouldn’t want to lose.

6. Think Data as Well as Device

Did you know that cyber criminals are selling personal data on the dark web for the price of a cup of coffee?  Money Guru investigators recently found that an individual’s entire personal identity can be bought for £744.30 (approx. $980).  You can see more of these frightening statistics here.  It’s important to remember that thieves may have no interest in your physical device but more in the data that is on it. Whatever data you hold you will need to look at how well you are protecting it through passwords and encryption techniques. Don’t forget, if it’s the data they are interested in, then they can easily grab a quick screenshot of what they need using their phone camera.

You should also backup your sensitive data somewhere other than on a device – preferably in the cloud or the event management system you’re using around your events. If your device is stolen, then make sure you have in place a means of tracking or tracing it.

7. Educate and Brief Your Staff

Whilst you will be briefing your event staff and volunteers on all things related to the smooth running of your event, take time to talk about security actions that you require.  After all, you don’t want to be the organiser that suffers due to a data breach at your event that could have been prevented if your team had been aware of the implications of security issues.  For example, make sure your team know that they shouldn’t ever leave devices lying around.  If they don’t need their devices on-site, best to leave them behind at home, the office or a locked safe in a hotel room.

8. Consider Your Event Programme

You are in mid flow at your event and all is going well. Your attendees are in the main plenary room, laptops and devices of all types are out on the tables. They are tapping away, taking notes and they are generally immersed in the session. It is coming to an end and your facilitator announces that all attendees now need to move quickly to an adjoining room to take part in a facilitated team building activity and everyone needs to take part. The question is, what happens to all those devices whilst everyone is out of the plenary room? Have you inadvertently taken responsibility for them? Always look at your programme and factor in whether the likelihood of device theft is increased due to your programme of activities.

9. Don’t Forget Lunch Times and Session Breaks

Lunch times and breaks are ideal opportunities for theft.  There will be lots of movement as attendees pause for coffee, rest breaks or something else and the venue staff carry out their hospitality duties. In the midst of all this distraction, it becomes easier for the opportunist to whisk away devices.

Stay Alert – A Final Word

Don’t forget to stay alert when you are out and about. Some of the other hot spots for device theft include cars, offices, free or public wi-fi areas, airport security and public work spaces. Unfortunately, the risk of device theft is ever present. However, thinking about the points outlined in this article and some basic common sense can overcome a number of potential pitfalls.

You can also read more about how you as an event planner can better look after your attendee data in the ‘The Event Planner’s Guide to Data Security’ – which identifies some of the most common day-to-day things event planners need to stop doing to minimise the risks of breach.  The eBook highlights some key vulnerability areas when it comes to meetings and events – including things like emails, password, event teams and delegate lists – and offers some practical advice on how event planners should secure their attendee data at different phases of the event lifecycle.

Download your copy of the eBook here.

Have you had issues regarding device theft around your events? Are there any other tips you’d like to share with us?  We would love to hear your views!  Otherwise, if you would like to get similar articles offering advice on all things around event tech, then sign up to our weekly EventTech Talk Newsletter here.