Implementing data security for multiple devices

By Martin Courtney
19 Apr 2011 View Comments
iPad users in an Apple store

There remains little, if any, evidence to suggest that corporates are rolling out large numbers of iPads or other types of tablet PCs to their employees. But it is almost inevitable that some company executives, as well as a few workers in customer-facing jobs, will want to attach their own devices to company networks.

But to what extent are employers prepared to allow workers to introduce their own devices, and how much support will a typical IT department be expected, or even willing, to provide?
“I think this is one of those trends that has crept up and almost surprised corporates, and the realisation has come that this has to be managed, secured and controlled,” says John Martin, European director at remote device management software company Wavelink.

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“Smartphones are very powerful corporate tools, but because people tend to use them for both business and personal activities, the organisation has to consider policies around the degree to which an individual owns that device and stores personal information on it.”

Implementing effective data security measures on multiple devices is a big challenge for IT departments, which may have to think harder about where to deploy protection tools to reduce the administrative burden. Putting firewalls and other tools at the gateway, web portal or hosted application layer may be more practical than rolling out end-point security to every device, for example.

Steven Wastie is senior vice president of product management at iPass, a company specialising in providing managed mobility services to enterprise customers. He says that end-point security and management is converging as more mobile software makers integrate the same functions into the device operating systems.

“If you look at Apple’s iOS, every time there is a version upgrade it opens up more APIs – a lot of things are going south into the OS that were originally in the realm of mobile device management software,” he says.

“The apps are a lot more lightweight and you do not need VPNs [virtual private networks] and heavyweight security for those – good enough is good enough so long as the core functions are there, controlled by policies related to cost.”

Many organisations will want to simplify things by agreeing to support only specific devices and operating systems, if only to reduce their own administration costs.

“You do not want to roll out applications to multiple platforms or be forced to keep a cupboard full of different devices,” says Pauline Trotter, principal analyst in the enterprise telecoms team at research firm Ovum.

Research firm Forrester recently advised companies to standardise on only one or two platforms, such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, for example, or alternatively only those able to support browsers with HTML5 in order to make sure employees can access hosted and web applications if client software cannot be made to work.

But Wastie says the days of being able to lock down specific devices, historically Windows laptops and BlackBerrys, have gone and organisations must now tolerate a much broader range of portable computers and smartphones.

“Like it or not, we have a much larger range of devices now – Android, Symbian, and if Nokia and Microsoft get their way we will have Windows 7 coming into play as well,” he says. “All of which is leading to complexity and fragmentation, so IT departments need to discuss how they deal with this new reality.”

Trotter argues that one way around this is to use hosted software applications that can be accessed through web portals, so all the data is secured by the provider rather than the internal IT department or end user. This has the added advantage of removing some of the burden of mobile device management to a third party, which can also handle software and application updates as part of the contract.

“The way that enterprises have typically managed laptops is very different from the way they have managed handhelds – they are not treated as mobile devices,” she says. “They come as a desktop with all the applications pre-installed and configured, so they are finding the whole trend to mobile devices difficult and in many cases it may be healthier to outsource the whole thing.”

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