There are benefits to allowing workers to bring their own devices and connect them to the corporate network, but businesses must take action to counter the risks user-owned devices can bring.
While more than eight out of 10 IT managers believe that a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy boosts productivity, more than 60 percent say employees connecting out to cloud services is a risk, according to a survey conducted by telecommunications and consulting firm BT.
"Organizations have to be aware of where their data is now -- in order to control access to it and protect it," says Jeff Schmidt, global head of business continuity, security, and governance at BT Global Services. "CIOs need to have a strategy for how they deal with data at rest and data in motion."
Cloud and the BYOD movement are two trends that are converging to create security problems for companies. Consumer technology could play host to malicious software, which could come from a cloud service or social network, allowing it to enter a business' network unhindered. Devices could also allow an insider to easily exfiltrate data.
"BYOD is a good trend, but there is a negative from a security perspective," says Michael Sutton, vice president of security research for Zscaler. "Where I see most companies migrating to is that they need some degree of control."
To blunt the danger of the always-accessible cloud, companies need to take a trio measures:
1. Employ policy tools from cloud providers.
Take service provider YouSendIt, for example. The company's service originally gave workers an easy way to send large files through e-mail -- the file was stored in the cloud and workers could send a link to the file in e-mail, reducing the bandwidth. Now the company's service works through any mobile device, as well. Users can upload large files or view the files from any mobile device.
[ An increasing amount of corporate data will be accessed through the cloud from anywhere in the world. Great for productivity? Yes, but it's also a security threat. See Cloud's Future Security Depends On Mobile. ]
To help customers deal with compliance requirements, the company has a number of ways of tracking data and limiting access. A company can, for example, bar the sending of corporate data to Gmail accounts. The reason for the controls are to help companies get a handle on where their data is going, says Mihir Nanavati, vice president of product management and user experience for YouSendIt.
"All bets are off in terms of security in the enterprise when users bring in their own devices," he says. "It is hard to manage all this complexity."
2. Institute tight control.
To create an appropriate policy, companies should first identify their important information assets, assigning a monetary value to each, BT's Schmidt says. By knowing the value of its data, a company can prioritize its defensive measures, including data encryption, digital rights management, and data-loss prevention solutions. A variety of monitoring and log management should be done as well, he says.
Data can leak, not just through smartphones, but also thumb drives, laptops, and other portable storage devices, Schmidt says. Given that, companies should not expect a single technological fix.
"The industry is littered with good technology solutions looking for a problem," Schmidt says. "The important point here is that this isn’t solved with just one application or technical solution, but rather with an approach and direction that reflects your organization's risk appetite and culture."
3. Provide easy-to-use content.
When implementing policies and restrictions and mixing in new technology, companies need to remember that the entire BYOD movement is driven by ease-of-use. It is easier for a worker to bring his smartphone, while at the same time being less expensive for the company.
If security restrictions are too onerous, however, then employees will work around them, weakening security, Nanavati says.
"Administrators should be able to set policy -- absolutely," he says. "But you don't want administrators to be able to set policies that break the end-user experience. The users need to be able to access content when they need it."
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