Mobile Devices Just Another Endpoint

Two mobile security surveys out this week show that as mobile devices are more tapped into mission critical systems, security focus must remain on the data
Far from a luxury business item anymore, mobile devices have teetered past a tipping point of mission criticality within organizations and as a result, security teams are scrambling to find better ways to integrate their management into the overall security framework, a pair of studies indicated this week.

“We’ve moved beyond the era of employees using devices mostly as messaging equipment to where it is becoming a critical business tool running line-of-business applications,” says CJ Desai, senior vice president of the endpoint and mobility group at Symantec. “We’re really relying on it to the point where if that device goes down or isn’t available, we’re actually starting to lose productivity.”

That’s what survey data seems to be pointing to from Symantec’s 2012 State of Mobility Survey, which queried over 6,200 IT decision makers about mobility within their businesses. Released this week, the survey showed that 73 percent of organizations have already achieved increased efficiency through the use of mobile computing.

“If you think about how quickly we've come from the attitude that these are luxury alternate types of communications to 'Oh my God, if this goes down we're going to lose productivity,' that indicates to me that we are really shifting to relying on those devices,” Desai says.

Approximately 59 percent of organizations already use line-of-business applications on mobile devices and 71 percent say they have plans for developing custom mobile applications for the business. Additionally, 70 percent of organizations say they’re planning corporate app stores for their mobile-equipped workers.

Of course, these gains come with inherent risks. The survey showed that mobile computing is the number one risk cited by IT decision makers, with 41 percent of them listing them as one of the top three risks, above public cloud computing, ecommerce and Web 2.0. But while many enterprises and small businesses are scrambling to understand what the risks are, Desai believes that beyond the hoopla these are just another data delivery vehicle like PCs and laptops.

“In the end, once the hype dies down and people figure out the strategy and get their technology in place, it is just another endpoint,” Desai says. “And you still have to manage it and secure it.”

Another survey out this week, sponsored by Forescout and conducted by Boston Research Group, seems to substantiate Desai’s belief. Among 365 IT security pros surveyed for the study, a full 96 percent said they wanted unified security policy management for both mobile devices and PCs in the enterprise.

"IT professionals see many of the same security risks in mobile devices such as smartphones that have long been a concern for laptops and notebook computers,” said Paul McClanahan, research analyst and partner at the Boston Research Group. “Device mobility, wireless access, personal applications and the high risk of lost or stolen handhelds creates a need for added defenses against data loss, unauthorized access and malware.”

Both surveys indicated that the biggest mobile security pain points experienced by respondents revolved primarily on how the devices interact with sensitive data. According to the Forescout survey, 68 percent of those questioned say they’re concerned about mobile security risks associated with mobile device accessing corporate resources.

“The top thing around mobile is that there’s data on the devices and traveling through the devices,” Desai says, explaining that respondents cited lost and stolen devices and data leakages as the top risks from mobility, both of which are data security-related worries.

No matter what approach organizations take to lock down data across this latest wave of endpoints, the one clear takeaway is that they can’t afford to stick their heads in the sand, Desai says.

“The idea of saying ‘No’ and blocking is really almost kind of empowering for the more savvy users because they’re just going to go around and figure out a way to do it,” he says. “It’s much better to enable and set policies that allow people to do the things they need to, but in a controlled way.”

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