Redefining BYOD

More companies are seeing the benefits of allowing their employees to bring personally owned devices into the workplace and onto the corporate network. The familiarity of having your own smartphone for work means that you can work faster and, perhaps cynically from the employer’s perspective, that you are far more likely to work longer.

But it’s not all a one-way street, you don’t need to carry two devices, much of the cost of your personal smartphone use is offloaded to your employer and you get to choose your preferred hardware.

BYOD is not without its risks for the enterprise; the challenges of managing and securing a heterogeneous estate of mobile devices should not be underestimated. Multiple manufacturers, multiple versions of multiple operating systems and an ever-widening pool of apps all exacerbate the security headache. It’s hardly surprising that alternative definitions for BYOD have already been proposed 'bring your own disaster' or 'bring your own danger' for example.

Many of the BYOD headaches for enterprises can be reduced to a few discrete problems. The multiplicity of devices and operating systems, the inappropriateness of a particular platform to a given role, or the legality of making modifications to someone else’s 'computer', for instance. How do you legally 'wipe' a device that you do not own?

Facing up to these challenges demands alternative approaches. One such strategy has been called 'Inverse BYOD' where a business owned device is provided to the employee for both personal and business use. This strategy has some mileage and offers the beginnings of a workable long-term strategy for enterprise.

At its most basic Inverse BYOD sounds like nothing more than a return to the days when you carried a company-issued device and those days are certainly not set for a return. Today’s consumer demands more than 'any colour that he/she wants so long as it is black'. More extensive descriptions might include ideas such as restricting those devices to a distinct 'untrusted' infrastructure and treating them as forever external. Well, 1999 called and they want their reality back. Integration of device and data happens way outside of any hardware enforced network boundaries and it is wholly unrealistic to imagine that by keeping smartphones off the enterprise network, risks are mitigated.

And that’s where bring your own data comes in.

Enterprises need to recognise that consumerisation is a reality and that their employees already live in a world where choice is considered normal. Employees need to recognise that access to sensitive data in the workplace carries with it certain obligations. A bring your own data strategy means that companies can offer devices from a pool of 'enterprise approved' hardware. Approved for their manageability and for their appropriateness for the employee’s role. Companies are no longer in the position of having to yes to everything for everyone, neither are they obliged to support every flavour of every operating system from every manufacturer. Those in roles with access to information of the highest sensitivity may be able to chose which Blackberry or iOS device they would like to use, while those with access to less sensitive information could choose from certain Android devices, for example.

The key to success though is creating a culture where employees feel both authorised and empowered to bring their own, personal data to those enterprise owned devices. This reduces the temptation or the need to sneak an unapproved, unmanaged device into the heart of the network and brings all the benefits, personal and business, of putting cutting-edge technology into the hands of your employees.

As with most information security challenges the key to this is a human one, security by consensus beats security by diktat every time. Only one thing is certain, BYOD of whatever definition is already a reality and you need to consider bring your own defence because bring your own denial won’t cut it.

Rik Ferguson brings more than 15 years of security and information technology experience to his role as director of security research & communication at Trend Micro. In this position, Rik is actively engaged in threat research, with a particular focus on social networking attacks. As EMEA spokesperson for the company, Rik is frequently interviewed about international security threats and issues by trade, national and international media.

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