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Forget Standardization -- Embrace BYOD

The platform standardization ship has sailed, but mobile device management is your ticket to securing all of those handhelds
Despite its rocky start, Windows 8 has IT departments salivating over the idea of standardizing on a single platform. It's a compelling vision: phones, tablets, and workstations all running a single OS and managed through a shared set of native Microsoft tools. Compelling, perhaps, but for most organizations, it ain't gonna happen.

Except in the most locked down, high security environments, platform standardization is quickly becoming a thing of the past. The social marketing guru you hired is joined at the hip to his shiny, new Galaxy S4. If you want him tweeting and posting off-hours, it's Android or bust. The new marketing director? He gave up Windows five years ago and wants a MacBook Air. And when the CEO wants to check her email on her iPad, good luck convincing her that she should trade it in for a Surface tablet.

In five years, according to Gartner, 70 percent of mobile workers will use personal smart devices to do their work. Whether driven by business agility, employees' connections to their consumer devices, or cost savings, bring your own device (BYOD) is becoming a reality. The forward-thinking IT leader, then, isn't trying to standardize on Windows or any other platform. Instead, he's looking at how he can manage and secure a diverse array of company-owned and personal devices.

For those of us in security, this requires a difficult mind shift. When we don't own the device, the software running on it, or the network it's communicating on, how do we do our jobs? The answer, it turns out, is to focus on policy. Remember when you learned that the first step in architecting security is to develop a solid security policy? This is truer today than ever before. In a monolithic corporate computing environment, you can enforce policy -- or even de facto create it -- simply by configuring devices a certain way and preventing users from changing the configuration. Now, policy must become a gatekeeper: Employees can use any device to access corporate data or systems as long as the device is compliant with the security policy.

Today's mobile device management (MDM) tools allow you to enforce a variety of policy items, such as requiring devices to have antivirus software and to scan newly installed apps; setting minimum length and complexity of unlock passwords; encrypting data on the devices; empowering IT to remotely lock or wipe devices in case of loss or theft; and prohibiting rooted or jailbroken devices.

Think, for a moment, about how empowering this shift really is. For your users, it means they have the latitude to choose the phone or tablet that works best for them, regardless of OS. They don't have to carry around two phones, one for work and one for home. And they can change phones or even platforms whenever they like. For you and your IT colleagues, it means freedom from purchasing, deploying, and supporting devices. Communicate the policy, provide your users with a process to install the MDM tool (e.g., via a self-service portal), and let them loose.

It's time to stop dreaming of the halcyon days of BlackBerry or bust, and to stop fantasizing about Microsoft's one platform to rule them all. BYOD is here, and with it comes the new challenge of securing more devices, on more platforms, with more user freedom. Fortunately, with some planning and the right tools, you can simultaneously provide security and add value to your business and employees.

Now that is an idea that IT departments should be salivating over.