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Handheld devices audit checklist

Personal Digital Assistant Audit Checklist 

Version 2.2 

June 2009


Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) Audit Checklist 

Prepared by Stephen Northcutt 


This document provides a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) Audit Checklist and list of vendor security products developed to protect PDAs against known, evolving, and new security threats. A PDA is a handheld computer that stores, processes, and transfers information to other PDAs, personal computers (PCs), and networks using serial, universal serial bus (USB), infrared (IR), Bluetooth, Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi), or cellular technology. Traditional or standalone PDAs have no cell phone capability, unlike newer PDAs, including Smartphones. Handheld features often include personal information management (PIM) software, office and multimedia applications, email and Internet capability, and a global positioning system (GPS) option. Touch screens support user interactions through a stylus pen and onscreen keyboard or mini- or full-sized keyboard, or by hand.  

Currently, PDAs do not incorporate internal hard drives. They use random-access memory (RAM), read-only memory (ROM), and external memory, such as removable flash cards. If power is lost, some devices have an internal backup battery operating for up to thirty minutes, until primary batteries are changed or recharged. PDAs are used in various industries, including government, financial, retail, medical, education, manufacturing, and travel. 

Traditional PDA sales have significantly declined, as more users turn to Smartphones that allow multimedia interactivity, global networking, and fulltime telecommuting similar to desktops and laptops. According to IDC, the global mobile worker population will exceed 850 million in 2009 – representing more than one-quarter of the worldwide workforce.1 Palm (Palm operating system) and HP (Windows Mobile operating system) lead Traditional PDA sales. 

A March 2009 Gartner report shows worldwide Smartphone sales to end users by operating system, in 2008.2 

  1. Symbian 52.4%
  2. Research In Motion 16.6%
  3. Microsoft Windows Mobile 11.8%
  4. MAC OS X 8.2%
  5. Linux 8.1%
  6. Palm OS 1.8%
  7. Other Operating Systems 1.1%

Security Threats 

PDA security threats are on the rise and include phone fraud, malware, and denial of service (DoS) attacks. In turn, an organization’s enterprise network security is impacted, especially when compromised handheld devices make behind-the-firewall wired or wireless connections. Several technologies used by PDAs come with inherent vulnerabilities and encounter ongoing security attacks. Email is subject to malware, phishing, and spam attacks. Instant messaging is subject to malware, smishing, and flooding attacks. Wireless networks experience eavesdropping, man-in-the-middle, and jamming attacks. The Internet experiences malware, web browsing, and web application attacks. Some third party applications contain exploitable vulnerabilities, as a result of insecure software coding practices, undetected bugs, and flawed patches and upgrades. 

Sensitive, propriety, and/or classified data loss occurs when a lost, stolen, or damaged PDA is not regularly synchronized with an organizational computer or network. Data synching over a network, without encrypted sessions, could lead to sniffing and spoofing attacks. Data loss also occurs when attackers gain physical or logical access to PDAs and perform unauthorized modifications or inject arbitrary code. If such attacks go unnoticed for any length of time, forensics data could prove invalid and security controls ineffective.    

Profit-oriented and sophisticated attacks against handheld devices increase each year. According to McAfee, manufacturers have reported increases against all threat categories:3 

  • Network or service capacity issues
  • Virus/spyware infections
  • Voice or text spam attacks
  • Third party application/content problems
  • Loss of user data from devices
  • Phishing attacks in any form
  • Privacy and regulatory issues
  • Denial of service attacks

PDA Security Audit 

An organization must protect its handheld devices from various security threats, throughout their life cycle. PDAs operate inside the network perimeter and could become part of a botnet executing fraudulent activities or launching distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Regular PDA security audits should be performed. A security audit ensures the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PDA and network assets, by verifying policy compliance, discovering weak or non-existent security controls, and detecting security events. First, an organization should conduct a PDA vulnerability assessment to identify known vulnerabilities and existing and potential risks. Then, a clear and concise handheld device security policy should be written and enforced by management. The PDA Audit Checklist, included below, helps an organization establish, monitor, and maintain security.4 


PDA Security Audit Checklist 

No. Security Control Description  
Administrative Controls
1 Security Policy Organization has a clear and concise handheld device security policy. This policy covers:
  • Organization goals and objectives for devices.
  • Applicable laws and regulations for device security.
  • Approved Modes of Operation: wired and wireless.
  • Types of information that can and cannot be stored, processed, and transferred on devices.
  • Types of applications permitted or prohibited on devices: in-house, commercial, shareware, and freeware.
  • Listing of security software permitted to protect devices.
  • Whether personally-owned devices are permitted.
  • Whether users are permitted administrator rights to organizational computer used for data synchronization.
  • Penalties for unauthorized use or lost devices.
  • Return of all organization-owned devices, during personnel termination processes.
  • Disconnection of all personally-owned devices, during personnel termination processes.
2 Acceptable Use Policy Organization has a handheld device acceptable use policy (AUP). This policy covers:
  • Organization-owned device users sign AUP agreement.
  • Personally-owned device users sign AUP agreement.
  • Device is not used to store, process, or transfer sensitive, proprietary, or classified data, unless encryption is used.
  • No simultaneous connection while device is connected to organizational computer or network.
  • Device is not left unattended when attached to a computer.
  • Device uses password protection when not in use.
  • No unapproved software is installed on device.
  • User takes steps to prevent device lost, theft, or damage.
  • User regularly synchronizes device with organizational computer or network, for backup purposes.
3 Insurance Policy Organization insures handheld devices against loss, theft, or damage.
4 Security Awareness Training Organization includes handheld device security in its security awareness training. This training covers:
  • Handheld device security policy.
  • Handheld device acceptable use policy.
  • Non-use of public or untrusted network access points.
  • Protective measures to prevent lost, stolen, or damaged devices, including against dust, heat, humidity, and drops.
  • Protective measures to prevent lost, stolen, or damaged removable memory cards.
  • Reporting procedures for lost, stolen, or damaged devices.
  • Protective measures against social engineering and other security attacks.
  • Reporting procedures for compromised devices.
  • Protective measures for unused or unattended devices.
Technical Controls
1 Configuration Management Organization maintains a secured inventory of all handheld devices. This registry includes:
  • Device serial number.
  • Device make and model.
  • Full name of person issued or owning a device.
  • Checkbox for each person having read and understood handheld device security and acceptable use policies.
  • Checkbox for each person having received security awareness training for handheld device security.
  • Each device has proper operational settings.
  • Each device has proper security software and settings.
  • Each device is loaded with authorized software.
  • Each device has a permanent tag or marking.
  • Each device has a return address label.
2 Access Control Organization implements handheld device access control. It includes:
  • All devices use power-on authentication.
  • All devices use re-authentication, after pre-defined idle time.
  • All devices use a password to synchronize to an organizational computer or network.
  • Device-to-computer or –network synchronization occurs locally or via a secure connection.
  • Authentication mechanism is one of the following:
    • Minimum password length (8 to 16 characters, mixed letters, numbers, and special characters).
    • Smart card with a PIN or password.
    • Biometrics with a PIN or password.
  • Account lockout after pre-defined number of unsuccessful login attempts.
  • Lockout duration for pre-defined time length.
  • Password expiration after pre-defined time length.
  • Password history restriction.
  • Password not stored “in clear” on device or on organizational computer or network.
3 Anti-Virus Software Organization implements antivirus software on each handheld device.
  • Antivirus software scans files as they are opened.
  • Updated signatures are installed on devices each time they synchronize to an organizational computer or at regular intervals via a secure network connection.
4 Data Encryption Organization implements encryption to protect information on handheld devices.
  • AES or Triple DES used.
5 Firewall Organization implements a firewall on handheld devices.
  • Device firewall configured to allow or deny connections.
6 Virtual Private Network
  • Organization implements VPN software for handheld devices, for remote network connections.
  • VPN software uses IPSEC or SSL.
7 Device Integrity Organizational implements handheld device integrity.
  • Information stored on expansion slot media meets integrity and encryption requirements.
  • Device alarms if system files or registry settings are modified.
  • Integrity methods prevent security incidents from spreading to other devices and into the network.
8 Centralized Management Organization implements a centralized management system for handheld devices.
  • Default settings and passwords removed.
  • Manufacturer debugging features disabled or secured.
  • Unapproved software and applications removed.
  • All devices have an approved operating system.
  • All devices have latest patches and upgrades.
  • Unneeded network connections disabled or secured.
  • Unneeded applications and services disabled or removed.
  • All devices monitored for unauthorized activities.
  • Device is locked or its password changes if lost or stolen.
  • Device data is deleted, after pre-defined number of failed logon attempts.
  • Device data is deleted, if not synchronized to organizational computer or network within pre-defined time length.
  • Device data is wiped when device no longer used.
9 Device Backup Organization implements a backup mechanism for handheld device information.
  • Regular data backups for all devices.
  • Backed up data stored in secured location.
Physical Security
1 Physical Security
  • Device monitored when connected to an organizational computer or network.
  • Device and memory cards protected in storage.
  • Device protected by assigned individual, at all times.

PDA Security Products 

The table below lists current vendor security products for PDA security.5 

Security Function Vendor
Anti-Spam Symantec, Smobile
Anti-Spyware F-Secure, Symantec, Smobile
Anti-Theft Protection Kaspersky, Credant Technologies, Smobile
Anti-Virus Airscanner, Avira, BullGuard, Avast!, F-Secure, Kaspersky, McAfee, Symantec, ESET, Trend Micro, Smobile, Computer Associates
Authentication Credant, RSA, Trend Micro, DeveloperOne
Data Backup Blue Nomad
Data Encryption Airscanner, Kaspersky, Check Point, PGP, Credant Technologies, Trend Micro, Aiko, Blue Nomad, DeveloperOne, Trust Digital, Tealpoint
Data Forensics Paraben, Cellebrite, Oxygen
Data Sanitization Aiko, Sprite Software
Device Enterprise Management Symantec, McAfee, Trust Digital
Firewall Airscanner, F-Secure, Symantec, Trend Micro, ProtectStar, Smobile
Virtual Private Network SonicWall, NetMotion Wireless, Check Point

NOTE: This list neither constitutes recommendations by the SANS Institute nor covers every single vendor. Instead, this list provides a starting point from which to find and evaluate solutions for mitigating PDA security audit results. 


  1. http://us.trendmicro.com/imperia/md/content/us/pdf/products/enterprise/mobilesecurity/wp05_tmms_080211us.pdf
  2. http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=910112
  3. http://www.mcafee.com/us/local_content/reports/mobile_security_report_2009.pdf
  4. http://www.palmblvd.com/articles/2004/8/2004-8-23-Understand-Handheld-Security-p2.html; http://www.infosecwriters.com/text_resources/pdf/PDA_TOlzak.pdf; http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-124/SP800-124.pdf; http://www.securitydocs.com/library/3188; http://www.informit.com/guides/content.aspx?g=security&seqNum=252
  5. http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistir/nistir-7100-PDAForensics.pdf; http://www.firewallguide.com/pda.htm

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