Google steps up its BYOD game; looks to secure more than a billion mobile devices

Today's security enhancement is brought to you by the word fragmentation and the number 1 billion

android for work mobileiron
Credit: MobileIron

On Wednesday, Google officially launched Android for Work, which was announced last June at its I/O conference. The aim is to offer businesses a stopgap that addresses BYOD needs, including secured access to sensitive data and OS fragmentation.

There are more than a billion people using an Android device right now, and a good portion of them are on the corporate network somewhere in the world. Each day these employees manage their workloads on the same device they use for social media, dating, and entertainment.

It's a tricky proposition for IT mangers and security professionals. Do they ban all personal devices or allow employees to use whatever they want (e.g. BYOD) with the hope that they can manage them efficiently?

Google's offering isn't exactly new; but it's an untapped market for the search giant. There are dozens of firms that offer some level of MDM (Mobile Device Management), but each offering has its limits. In some cases, existing MDM solutions have problems keeping up with the market and the influx of new devices and OS capabilities.

The biggest problem with Android though is fragmentation. Things aren't as bad as they used to be, but carriers still don't do much when it comes to delivering security or general improvement updates. They'd rather sell a new device entirely, leaving millions of devices exposed to critical security flaws or buggy features that will never get fixed.

Google's plan is to fix these fragmentation gaps, especially when it comes to security. Android for Work will give layered security to devices that have none, while enhancing the existing security on devices running the latest Android release.

In fact, Android's latest release (Lollipop) has the Android for Work features built-in, while older releases can simply download an app from Google Play.

Devices running Android for Work profiles are split, so the employee can access work documents, email, and other essentials in a contained environment that the company manages remotely. All Android for Work apps are pre-approved by IT (controlled by policy) and can be updated on the fly as needed.

Android for Work requires an EMM (Enterprise Mobility Management) solution in order to tap all of its features, making implementation a little bit easier depending on who your EMM vendor is. Right now, Google is working with several vendors in the EMM space including MobileIron, BlackBerry, AirWatch, Citrix, and MaaS360.

All of the major handset manufactures are on board with Android for Work as well, including Huawei, Samsung, Motorola, Sony, HTC, Dell, HP, and LG.

Salesforce, Adobe, Box, and SAP have applications that are ready to launch, and VPN offerings from Cisco, F5, and Palo Alto are ready for release too.

Keeping with their promise from I/O, Google is offering email and calendar apps, as well as office tools such as Docs and Spreadsheets to Android for Work users, which can be customized for each organization.

While Google originally said that Android for Work would leverage technology from Samsung's KNOX – and the general outline of how Android for Work operates is similar – the final product is pure Google.

However, the company said that manufacturers are free to develop on top of Android for Work if they choose, leaving room for improvements in the future.

MobileIron has a good write-up on the security considerations for Android at Work if you're interested in some additional reading.

Most other EMM vendors are hosting events offering additional details in how their products tie into Google's latest release, but for those already dealing with BYOD on a regular basis Android for Work isn't going to be a complex offering to enable.

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