Business Management

Stephen Midgley (Europe) - Pocket Protector: Managing and Securing Mobile Devices in Business

A significant challenge for businesses in 2011 will be what has become known as the ‘consumerisation' of IT. That is, how to manage and secure a smartphone-enabled, social media savvy workforce without resorting to ‘big brother' tactics.

The lines between professional and personal are continuing to blur. Increasingly, employees are not only bringing their own mobile devices into the office, they are using them for work and storing and accessing company data on them.

Should an employee be allowed to synch their company email account with a personal smartphone? Who is responsible if an employee-owned device that contains corporate data is stolen?

The potential for the loss of a mobile device to cause havoc in business is huge. It's essentially an open door to the corporate network - contacts, financial records and business plans can usually all easily be located in an email account alone, not to mention passwords and other confidential data that can be easily uncovered.

To some extent, losing devices and information is inevitable. As long as you employ humans rather than robots, laptops will be left on trains and smartphones and tablet computers will be stolen from pockets and bags. What's important for employers is having the peace of mind that they've done everything they can to protect their information.

So what should employers do to feel more secure? Following these five simple tips should give you a good start in protecting your data regardless of where it resides:

  • Have a clear policy in place. Employees need to take responsibility for technology that's in their care, and a workable HR policy is the best way to make sure everyone understands this. Don't be afraid of making clear the price employees will have to pay if they're involved in data loss cases, and help them to understand what the consequences for the business could be
  • Communicate policy to staff. Once you have developed a policy, don't let it sit in a file somewhere - it's up to you to make sure employees are aware of it and are reminded about it regularly
  • Know what you've got. It sounds obvious, but a surprising number of IT managers (65% in the UK, according to Absolute Software/Vanson Bourne, October 2010) simply don't know how many laptops they've got, or where they are. Before you can start protecting your data, you need to know where it is
  • Keep track of multiple operating systems. Part of the problem of having consumer devices at work is that they often use different operating systems to standard enterprise technology. Gadgets that work on Apple's iOS and Google's Android can be harder to track than a PC. Make sure you've got the capability to do this, as the days of a single, dominant operating system are coming to an end
  • Use technology effectively. There is a whole host of technical solutions out there to help you protect your data, but think carefully about what will help you the most. The best approach is to make sure you're covered from a number of different angles. That is, to have a layered approach. A medieval castle would protect itself with a moat, thick walls and sentries with bows and arrows. In the same way, a business today should consider strong passwords, self-encrypted drives, and anti-virus, as well as theft recovery and remote lock and wipe capabilities. Knowing that if a device does get stolen, you have the capability to track its whereabouts and can either remotely wipe all data or work with police to physically recover it, should give you the confidence that you've done everything you can

Consumerisation of IT has the potential to cause some serious trouble for businesses, but managed in the right way there's no reason to panic. Following these few simple tips can help you sleep more easily, and avoid some serious problems in the long run.


Stephen Midgley, Director, Absolute Software



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