BYOD: In a world filled with smart devices, you may as well bring your own

Companies must prepare for a new generation of connected devices about to hit the work place, an expert has warned.

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The practice of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), where employees use personal gadgets both at home and in the office,
has become common as tablets and smartphones proliferate.

This has enabled more flexible working conditions for employees and, in some cases, a more motivated workforce. But it creates a headache for IT specialists, who must make sure the devices can access company networks where necessary.

It also heightens the risk of security problems. Employees can put company data onto unsecure devices, or run the risk of losing passwords and commercially sensitive files when they use the same device to browse unsafe websites.

In future, more connected devices will hit the market and enter the office environment. The Pebble smart watch, for example, now has an iOS app giving users Gmail and IMAP email notifications at work.

Amazon recently announced that the latest version of its Kindle Fire operating system would make some of its Kindles compatible with secure Wi-Fi networks, as well as allowing the distribution of documents across devices using its Whispercast system, in moves which would make the reading devices much more BYOD-friendly.

Even cars could become part of the BYOD world. American company Abalta Technologies claims its new system, Weblink, allows drivers to connect a smartphone to a computer and safely use the phone’s capabilities, such as accessing apps.

Ojas Rege, vice president for strategy at MobileIron, a firm which deals with “mobile enterprise” issues, says the expansion of BYOD means companies must support all the systems used on these devices. This means allowing them to interact with company networks such as internal email systems, and potentially access work-related files
and information.

But Rege says the situation is less complicated than some fear, as the operating systems running on smart devices are becoming more standardised than just a few years ago.

“BYOD is something that’s evolving quite rapidly,” he says. “When the plumber comes to my house to fix my pipes, I never offer him my toolbox. He uses his own tools.

“That’s what we are starting to see in the workplace with devices. They help employees do their jobs better.

“There used to be a theory that the world would converge to one device and that an employee would only have one device. I think that’s false.

“The number of devices will proliferate. There will be 50 devices that connect to the internet, and more and more of those will start to make their way to the office.”

Employees could increasingly use different gadgets to connect to the internet and access company networks, in their free time or while at work. But Rege argues that the specific device being used is less important than the operating system running on it. He says: “Smart watches and smart cars will absolutely make their way to the enterprise world. How does your employer support them?

“There’s not that much of a difference between smart watches and smart cars, because they are operated using a smart phone.

“But the support is easier if the company is running consistent operating systems. There is a key trend, where
if you turned back the clock five years, every device had a different operating system, whether it was Nokia or something else.

“What we are seeing now is a convergence on the operational side. The world seems to be taking up two or three systems.

“If you turn the clock forward two years, which in technology is a lifetime, there will be three systems which 99
per cent of devices will run: Apple iOS, Google Android and Microsoft’s system.”

He believes that this makes enabling BYOD simpler for firms.

“This will make it much easier for the enterprise to support people. If they have a method to support Android or iOS, they can use that across all devices,” he says.

“Security is another issue, but is also related to the systems. There’s a set of apps on a device, such as email, a document reader, a sales force app and so on. Each of those apps has enterprise data.

“I need to make sure the app can work on the device and also be secure. I may also need to make sure the data on that device is protected, and when an app connects to your business server, you need to make sure any transfers are secure.” Security will also be an issue with shared devices – whether this means iPads with a number of different users,
or connected cars which are later sold on to a new owner. But Rege believes that, as with BYOD, the issues are not specific to the devices.

“When an employee leaves or the device falls out of compliance if the user does something to make it insecure, you have to pull that data off the device,” he says.

“With connected cars or your iPad, other people can end up using it. You might have an iPad in a hospital, where different people are doing shift work.

“In these cases, identification is really key. What I mean is that the business services on the device should only work
if you are the right person and you have the password.

“All these shared devices will work in a similar way. You need to be able to log in and then log out.”

As connected cars and other technologies begin to enter the workplace, enabling BYOD without risking security is essential. But this will start with the systems already in place.

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  • barner_joshua

    BYOD is a big security problem, but many companies are willing to deal with it because of the potential productivity gains. BYOD devices login on to a network is simply going to be the reality of enterprise IT, but the most important thing is to secure the data and not just on the network but with the various ways device now communicate.

    Our hospital put a BYOD policy in place to use Tigertext (www.tigertext.com) for HIPAA complaint text messaging, mostly to deal with the reality that the doctors were sending patient data over regular SMS which is not HIPAA compliant. The reality was that the doctors were doing this because it was more efficient for them. Now we have the doctor using HIPAA compliant tigertext and the patient processing productivity doubled in the last quarter – a significant business advantage.

    Yes, BYOD is a big security issue, and yes their are real productivity gain to be had, but IT is going to have to be creative to get them and maintain security.