Left to your own devices

Of central management, remote wipes, and Santa Claus as a threat vector

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I've been watching a challenge grow on the horizon. It comes up over and over again in conversations with security and technology executives alike, and if it hasn't hit your organization yet...well, let's just say that it probably has and you're just missing it. It's the broad issue of mobility and the consumerization of IT. Simply put, it's all those fun little devices that your employees are bringing to you and saying "support me."

While we've struggled with iPods, iPhones and the like for years now, I think that the real turning point came when three things happened: Apple started to step up the management capabilities of the iPhone, which made it a real option for an enterprise environment, Android-powered smartphones began to gain market share, and the iPad was introduced. Up until this point it was easier for businesses to say "no" when their employees wanted to use iPhones instead of Research in Motion devices.

[Also see a visual history of Bragdon's mobile phones, from the Sharp Dial Master through the HP 6601x and beyond]

BlackBerrys were the standard in the enterprise for years (and really still are in the short term) primarily because they were first to market and were designed with centralized management in mind. What any business covets most in these devices is centralized management that allows them to, for example, remotely wipe the devices should they be lost or stolen.

The question I keep asking is this: These newer technologies are being adopted more quickly by consumers who are then forcing them into the enterprise, but do businesses really want to embrace these technologies? As usual, I think the answer is, It depends.

The challenge to the business is that there are real risks associated with the proliferation of these devices. A few months back, I was speaking with a security expert at a vendor and he noted that there had been an explosion of these devices coming into organizations after Christmas because people were getting iPads and the like as gifts.

He called that "Santa Claus as a threat vector."

Oddly appropriate and very accurate. As security and privacy requirements continue to layer onto the demands of enterprises, these devices are just increasing the risk footprint of those businesses.

But what our employees want, and what they are demanding is anytime, anywhere access to information, and that is what these devices promise. The problem is, I may not want my employees to have access to some data when they are traveling in, for example, China.

So how can businesses keep ahead of this? I'm not sure I have a good answer for that. RIM devices are one thing; they were pretty much designed for business use. iPhones and iOS are getting there. Android is like the Wild West—completely lawless.

This is all like being back in the desktop platform wars and the data center platform wars, except it seems to me that the business has far less control.

I'd like to hear from you about how you are addressing this issue in your workplace.

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