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Vulnerabilities / Threats

1/26/2007
05:10 AM
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Should IT Block iPhone?

Developing hardware policies is an important part of the security organization's strategic role

Second of a two-part column

In the first part of our discussion of security's role in company policy, we focused on why the security group should play a stronger role in employee selection. This time, let's look at security's role in restricting the hardware that is brought into corporate networks. We could start with USB flash drives, but Apple's new iPhone is potentially more dangerous.

While IT people often worry about rank and file employees, executives pose a special problem. Much of my mail includes questions on how to deal with that troublesome top executive -- without sacrificing one's career in the process.

Executives often misuse their authority and intentionally create security problems just to showcase their own power or avoid personal inconveniences. This is particularly true with unapproved devices, because these executives feel that general rules shouldn’t apply to those in their exalted positions. The execs sometimes end up paying for such mistakes, but in the end, the security most often will share the blame.

Which brings us to the iPhone. Is it just me, or did anyone else see the launch of Apple’s new iPhone as a security nightmare in the making? I’m talking about the increasing number of employees who will be buying these things, putting company information on them, and then losing them.

We already have a nightmare with stolen and lost laptop computers. But these damn phones -- which apparently are years behind the exiting RIM, Palm, and Microsoft CE platforms with regard to security -- are both more portable and vastly more likely to be stolen.

Apple appears to have launched the iPhone without even a nod to security, which suggests that we, as an industry, are simply not being vocal enough with regard to our requirements. And before a bunch of executives buy these damn things, we’d better make sure that our IT organizations have developed a published policy (with teeth) preventing them from entering our networks and collecting embarrassing data.

If we do this broadly enough, there is a good chance the next yo-yo vendor that rolls out a device like this will think through the security problem first. This is about getting ahead of problems -- and it is amazing that some very successful companies, which should know better, don’t. And with its high internal security requirements, Apple should be first in line to prevent this phone from being brought in by employees.

So what do hardware policies have to do with employee hiring practices, which we discussed in Part 1 of this column? Both are issues where security needs to get involved early, in a proactive way.

Too often, security is used as a reactive function -- after the horse has left the barn. It often is not used strategically and that, I think, is a huge mistake. Making sure employees are safe, company secrets are secure, and a company’s assets are protected -- those things are at the heart of ensuring a company is both profitable and viable. A security failure can do more than just damage a firm. It can, and it has, caused several companies to cease to exist.

This is why I think security should play a more active role in ensuring people are properly selected -- and keeping inappropriate hardware out of the network. When executives make stupid mistakes, it often is because they were unaware of the real risks they were taking. Security, used strategically, can make those executives more aware -- and less likely to make these critical mistakes.

— Rob Enderle is President and Founder of Enderle Group . Special to Dark Reading

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