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The One Critical Element to Hardening Your Employees' Mobile Security

COVID-19 has exposed longstanding gaps in enterprise mobile security. Creating a comprehensive mobile security plan and mandating compliance with that plan are essential to closing them.

American businesses have learned the hard way that they should be paying more attention to hardening their employees' mobile devices. There has been a drastic increase in the amount of malware, phishing, network breaches, and cyberattacks in general since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, and many of them were related to the large number of employees working remotely. 

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As Tony Cole, chief technology officer at Attivo Networks, once said, "If you have sensitive data, build a program to ensure it's as secure as possible and mandate everyone to stay within the bounds of the program." There's no one-size-fits-all product to secure an enterprise's mobile devices; rather, the one critical element to a secure mobile environment is to create a comprehensive security plan and then have systems in place to ensure mandatory compliance.

Building a Mobile Security Program
Spending IT money without an extensive plan is a waste of resources, plain and simple. Companies need to define their mobile program by figuring out exactly what they need to accomplish as well as what the intended scope is. However, it's important to integrate security planning into each aspect of the mobile program; too often, security is added on as an afterthought. Then everyone wonders why it doesn't sync well with the rest of the program.

If an organization is trying to build a good mobile program, it needs to be thinking about security. This extends beyond just picking out a good mobile device management platform or tacking on a virtual private network (VPN) app after it has distributed phones. Good mobile security programs don't cut corners or move too quickly; they deliberately evaluate how to protect each facet of employee-network interactions.

Finding a Solution
Once the purpose and scope of the security program have been determined, an organization needs to start shopping for vendors. At the very least, potential solutions need to take into account the following:

● Securing communications

● Protection from app and network-based threats

● Mobile device management

This is easier said than done, and there may not be one all-encompassing solution for all three of these problems. However, clearly articulating the goals of a mobile program to potential vendors can help them provide better solutions. 

Fielding a Security Program
When an organization is rolling out a mobile security program, it should start by fielding its solution to a few trusted individuals for testing, so they can help evaluate the effects on users. Too often, IT departments push patches or entire new programs that they haven't tested with live users — with disastrous results. 

At the end of the day, taking users into account serves two purposes: It keeps employees happy and productive, and it keeps them compliant. A program or app that's too cumbersome and unwieldy will likely be bypassed, which renders it an almost complete waste of time and money. Soliciting and acting upon feedback is also important in continuously developing mobile security.

Different departments, teams, or individuals may need different mobile security solutions as well. What works for the sales department may not work for HR, for instance. Therefore, during field testing, getting a variety of users to test the product is important. Then the IT department can tweak the experience to get the best functionality for each set of stakeholders. 

Privacy Considerations
It's important to note that an organization owes its employees thoughtful and reasonable answers to the question of why it's implementing a mobile security program. Whether it's a corporate-owned or employee-owned smartphone, employees deserve to know exactly what's being put on their device and what purpose those applications serve. Having good answers to this question helps a company both better define its mobile security program and put its employees' minds at ease. 

A good mobile security program needs to fully address employee privacy concerns. It should be clear before signing the company's acceptable-use policy what sort of data will or won't be collected; this might include:

● Using location history to track devices

● Viewing employee messages or emails on the device

● Accessing call logs

● Accessing browsing history

While a company may have a legitimate reason to collect this information, it needs to be transparent in how it intends to use the data. If there's an app that's continuously running and sending data to some repository, that should also be disclosed. Again, building trust with users will help build the security program's credibility as well as encourage compliance.

Create a Plan and Mandate Compliance
The most critical element of hardening mobile security isn't a specific feature on an app; rather, it's the act of creating a comprehensive mobile security plan and mandating compliance with that plan. In the current business climate, mobile devices are both critical to success as well as an organization's greatest vulnerability, so the importance of deliberately developing a program and making sure employees adhere to it can't be overstated.

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