Tech Insight: After The Holidays, It's Time To Re-Examine Smartphone Policies
With new portable devices coming out of the wrapping paper, how can enterprise security keep up?
December 31, 2009
'Twas the season for stockings stuffed with smartphones -- phones that include more computing power and functionality than computers might have wished for a decade ago. For enterprises, however, these "gifts" could be costly.
New toys, like iPhones, BlackBerrys, and the new Motorola Droid, give us around-the-clock connectivity that comes at a price not only to employees' personal time, but also to enterprise information security; just look at the recent attacks against "jailbroken" iPhones to steal personal data.
President Barack Obama's addiction to his BlackBerry is a testament to the need of today's society to have within reach the means to check e-mail, send text messages, and browse the Web. Of course, those are the more ordinary tasks. Smartphones now give us the capability to play online games, use instant messaging services, stay in touch with social networking sites, and much more. But what should companies do to secure these mobile communications and the data stored on such portable devices?
That's a question many IT workers will be facing as they ring in the new year. Many users will be returning to work with new Droids, iPhones, and even iPod Touches in-hand that they "need" connected ASAP to check email, access corporate intranets, and update statuses on social networks.
These requests and activities give rise to tough questions. Who's responsible for managing the security of "personal" devices that connect to the corporate network? What happens if a device capable of connecting to enterprise systems is lost? Should encryption be mandatory on portable devices that are used for work?
If it's a C-level executive with a new Droid, sometimes policies go out the window. However, that's not always the case. The key to dealing with smartphones -- and, really, any new whiz-bang hardware or software -- is to have policies for introducing them into the current infrastructure.
For example, you should define testing procedures that put the technology in real-world scenarios to determine whether features work as promised -- and whether network protocols and data storage meet your enterprise security requirements.
The policy should also dictate the level of support for personally owned smartphones. Many enterprises will not support personal devices of any sort because of the security and legal complications that arise when corporate data is stored on those devices. There simply is no definitive way to ensure the data on such devices is removed when the employee leaves the company.
Sure, you can have the employee sign a contract stating he will erase all information, but you won't know what he does with the data on the device before he leaves. Building a technical solution for this problem might mean doing more to support the device than your company might otherwise have planned to do.
The support issue is key. If you've ever rolled out new software, you know that virtually any IT problems that follow are immediately attributed to the new software. The same goes for forcing corporate software or policy configurations onto personal devices. As soon as anything goes wrong, your help desk will be fielding calls -- and trying to explain corporate policy on why they can't fix that solitaire app.
These issues are often deal-breakers that discourage enterprises from adopting new smartphones. But even if they weren't, the technical problems of managing and securing devices from multiple vendors often causes adoption of new devices to grind quickly to a halt. With the possible exception of Research In Motion, most smartphone vendors don't seem to have an eye for what's needed to get their products into the enterprise.
Vendors shipping smartphones with Windows Mobile have the obvious support of Microsoft ActiveSync for management, but it wasn't until July 2008 that Apple updated the iPhone to offer some basic management features (including remote wiping of the device) through ActiveSync. The release of the iPhone Configuration Utility 2.0 and additional security features in OS 3.0 have increased the level of adoption of the iPhone within the enterprise, according to a recent news report.
Unless your organization has an operational need to support more than one, the obvious choice is to ask employees to stick with one platform. However, solutions are available to manage multiple smartphone platforms: Two examples are Zenprise and BoxTone, which support a diverse group of platforms, including BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Palm.
The decision to support smartphones within your enterprise is often one made at the executive level, but it's essential to ensure the security department has a seat at the table and is included in all testing.
You should also update your policies to specify proper usage of mobile devices -- and what your organization will do to render the data on these devices useless if they should be lost or stolen.
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