These days, every user is mobile. Laptops, smartphones, tablets, and constant connectivity have unshackled all of us from our desks. And thanks to the ready availability of apps and cloud services that blur the line between consumer and business tools, we're also unshackled from controls over company data. Many IT departments are having a hard time keeping up--mainly because they've failed to adapt as quickly as their users to the new reality.
Most companies have some form of mobile security policy in place. Sixty-two percent of respondents to InformationWeek's 2012 Mobile Security Survey have policies that lets employees use personal mobile devices for work. However, many of these policies are far from fully fleshed out. And often businesses lack the means to monitor mobile use of data across all devices and applications, which limits IT's ability to enforce those policies.
To enable users to get the most out of their mobile technology and protect them in the process, companies must consider several factors, including device selection, data security, device management, net- work security support for mobile devices, and application controls. We spoke with a number of experts on these matters concerning the challenges involved and to get tips on how to develop a solid mobile security program.
The increasing diversity of device types, operating systems, and applications is complicating attempts to secure mobile infrastructure. In the past, IT could be reasonably confident that most employees would use a Windows-based computer and a BlackBerry. Companies could standardize around a few endpoint configurations, which simplified tasks for managing and securing the infrastructure. "All that's flying out the window now," says Dave Frymier, chief information security officer at Unisys, an IT services provider. "You can't treat everybody the same anymore."
But that doesn't mean anything goes. IT needs to strike a balance in the size of its device ecosystem to enable user freedom while maintaining the manageability of the IT environment, says Craig Mathias, an analyst with Farpoint Group. It may not be as structured as the standardized endpoint configurations of yesteryear, but some kind of enforceable policy on the devices allowed to connect to the network should be drafted to draw bounds on the scope of IT's mobile concerns, he says.
Many IT shops do just that, according to InformationWeek's Mobile Security Survey, which found that 42% of respondents who have or are developing a policy for mobile devices allow any device as long as the user agrees to certain policies. Another 40% allow a limited range of devices, and users must run mobile device management software. By contrast, just 10% allow user-supplied devices with no restrictions.
All About The Data
While most mobile security planning discussions begin (and often end) with talk about mobile device management technology, that's putting the cart before the horse. "We don't recommend purchasing a single piece of MDM software until you've thought through what information you have, who needs to access it, under what circumstance, when, where, and with what degree of security," Mathias says. "That implies that you have policies available in advance of making any purchasing, strategy, or deployment decisions. Not doing that is a mistake people make all the time."
Policies should emphasize data protection, not just device protection, and that includes data in motion and at rest, says Howard Creed, a solutions consultant for IT security value-added reseller MCPc.
To establish that data-first mentality, you must know exactly what data you have. Jim Kunick, an intellectual property attorney at Chicago law firm Much Shelist, recommends clients put data into three categories: non-confidential data, confidential data, and highly sensitive data such as financial information and other types that fall under compliance or regulation requirements. He says the next steps are to determine who gets access to each category and codify that into your mobile policies.
Mobile device management is no longer a nice-to-have option. But vendor buzz about mobile and bring-your-own-device policies makes it hard for IT to separate the information from the noise. Farpoint now tracks more than 100 MDM products, up from 40 last year, Mathias says. The most important thing to look for in MDM is a scope of function that supports mobile policies and some form of consolidation with other IT management tools and dashboards, he says.
Another factor in deciding how to enforce policy across the mobile infrastructure is figuring out how heavy-handed the organization should be with intrusive agents or other controls on employee-owned devices.
Unisys's Frymier uses an MDM tool on corporate-owned devices to perform tasks such as enforcing two-factor authentication, enabling remote wipe, and conducting inventory and asset management. But for BYOD users, Unisys depends on Microsoft's ActiveSync. "We can assert policies through the ActiveSync server, and that includes remote wipe, local storage encryption, and forcing authentication through the use of a digital certificate," he says.
Doing so protects the business without BYOD users feeling like their employer is snooping into their personal data. This is a very real concern, and it's one reason some organizations consider using mobile virtualization and sandboxing techniques to separate business information flows from personal information stored on mobile devices.
Meanwhile, even with the flood of smartphones and tablets into the enterprise, laptops remain the fundamental tool that most road warriors depend on. CISOs shouldn't let the mobility noise distract them from core activities such as patch management, vulnerability management, and maintenance of client-based anti-malware, Frymier says.
Much of the mobile security discussion is focused on devices. But Wi-Fi represents a significant vulnerability. When it comes to the corporate network, the WLAN should be designed so that vulnerable Wi-Fi connections can't be easily parlayed by hackers into beachheads for deeper penetration into more sensitive areas of the network.
"You've got to get used to this world in which there are no secure external perimeters," says Frymier. "You need a bunch of secure internal perimeters now."
Public hotspots, the innumerable hotels, coffee shops, and other locations that employees link to, also present a risk. Constant connectivity is a must-have for road warriors, so forbidding connections to public access points will bring work to a screeching halt. "As a road warrior myself, I can tell you that finding 'safe' havens for Wi-Fi is a challenge. But you can't rely on local infrastructure, otherwise you will become a modern-day hermit," says Kapil Raina, director of product marketing at Web security firm Zscaler.
That's why companies must develop acceptable-use policies, provide VPN technology, and demand that users connect through these secure tunnels to strike a reasonable balance between wireless ubiquity and secure connectivity.
While mobile malware isn't anywhere near as big a problem as malicious software on PCs, it's out there, and attackers can leverage their exploits of mobile vulnerabilities into attacks on the networks that those devices connect to.
Combine mobile malware with the increased potential for data theft or loss through mobile apps that store sensitive data on devices or in unauthorized public cloud services, and it's clear that app management may become as important as device management for addressing mobility and BYOD initiatives.
"Employees don't think in terms of 'mobile,' 'on premises,' 'cloud,' 'browser-based,' etc.," says John Juris, director of product management at Flexera Software, a provider of application usage management software. "They just want their data, and they want their apps on the devices they happen to be using."
Companies should consider building enterprise application stores as a way to improve distribution of both corporate custom apps and sanctioned consumer apps that can help users conduct business on mobile devices.
Businesses should also consider finding (or building, if you have the chops, the money, and the management resources) a cloud-based storage and file synchronization service that has controls that meet IT's security requirements and features that users can live with. Mobile users want to put data in a place where they can access it from any device, and they'll find a service whether IT likes it or not. By providing an alternative, and promoting it via an enterprise app store, companies may save themselves headaches in the long run.
Meanwhile, Creed, the MCPc solutions consultant, recommends that IT consider a more ambitious goal: to build end-to-end file security from your corporate data stores, cloud-based data stores, and mobile device data stores--essentially an internal ecosystem for sensitive mobile data processing.
Tying It All Together
With so many moving parts, it's easy to see why IT groups are struggling to integrate mobile security into the overall IT security framework. Such integration requires expertise, money, and time to strategize, develop policies, and implement infrastructure and procedures to enforce those policies.
The added expense for full-fledged mo-bile security has to be table stakes for IT innovation. And as companies put technology and procedures in place, they must keep in mind one of the most important and oft-forgotten factors in mobile security: user ignorance.
To avoid wasting mobile security dollars, businesses should set aside the necessary dollars to incorporate mobile security awareness into IT security training to keep users from making mistakes that put business data at risk.
Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading. View Full Bio