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Achieving better security for BYOD workplaces

FYI, this story is more than a year old

More and more, employees are choosing to perform their work from unmanaged, personal devices instead of from managed, corporate devices. As this practice spreads across the business world, organisations are struggling to ensure that their data is adequately protected when accessed from new endpoints and new locations.

This practice of BYOD (bring your own device) is appealing to employees for a number of reasons. For example, rather than being forced to use a company-issued mobile device, they can simply use the technology with which they are already comfortable and proficient.

Additionally, having the ability to use any device extends the flexibility offered by cloud applications like Office 365. Today, employees can work from cafés as easily as they can from the office. The result is typically improved productivity and morale.

For IT departments, however, the trend has created new challenges. Instead of being able to manage a standardised set of devices, they must now secure data as it flows to different types of endpoints with different operating systems and usage patterns – the environment is highly heterogeneous.

As such, securing BYOD has become one of IT's greatest struggles. This only serves to complicate the department's quest to secure data in the cloud, data on end-user devices, and data in transit.

To securely enable BYOD, organisations must meet a variety of requirements. For example, they need to distinguish between trusted and untrusted endpoints, secure data resting on unmanaged devices, and govern data access by factors like user, device type, and location.

In addition to these security requirements, employee needs must be addressed. Employees expect anywhere, anytime access to corporate data – from any device. However, they also desire privacy and want to be certain that their employers aren't viewing the personal information stored on their BYO devices. While many tools seek to meet all of these demands, some are more capable than others.

Mobile device management

In the early days of BYOD, many organisations looked to mobile device management (MDM) for security. This required installing software agents on users' devices so that they could be remotely managed by IT departments. Unfortunately, this approach failed to provide the desired level of security – primarily because of deployment challenges.

Our research shows that 57 per cent of users refuse MDM software because it gives IT departments unfettered access to their devices and can violate their privacy. Additionally, employees often complain that MDM tools consume too many resources on their devices and cause performance issues. While there are more than two billion mobile devices in use, only about 25 million MDM user licenses have been sold.

In light of the above challenges, many organisations opted to deploy mobile application management (MAM), a less invasive alternative to MDM. MAM tools only granted IT control over installed software containers that held corporate apps and data.

Despite this shift away from controlling entire devices, many users were still concerned about their privacy. Additionally, MAM agents tended to prevent the use of native apps like mail and calendar, forcing employees to use business-approved alternatives. These tools frustrated users, proved challenging to deploy, and only protected a limited selection of cloud apps.

A data-centric approach

Because of the above challenges, organisations are now adopting data-centric security solutions like agentless cloud access security brokers (CASBs). These tools can secure data in the cloud, data on endpoints, and data in transit between the two – without taking control of employees' personal devices. Additionally, they require no software installations on endpoints and can be deployed within minutes.

CASBs sit between BYO devices and cloud apps in order to secure data. They can authenticate users' identities, monitor the data that they are accessing, and apply appropriate security measures in real time. For example, data leakage prevention (DLP) policies can redact critical information in emails, and access controls can prevent unsafe devices from downloading sensitive files. Additionally, select CASBs can remotely wipe corporate data from BYO devices without affecting users' personal data.

Taking a data-centric approach to BYOD security ensures that data is protected and overcomes the shortfalls of MDM and MAM. With tools like CASBs, organisations and their employees can enjoy the benefits of BYOD without compromising on security, privacy, or productivity.

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