BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

Cyborg Employees - Coming to An Office Near You

Heads up, IT managers - wearable technologies are about to invade your workplace. Some analysts estimate that the global wearable technology market will be worth more than $3 billion in revenue this year, and up to $12 billion by 2018; the "human data" generated by these devices could fundamentally impact how we track and improve our performance in any number of fields. But for enterprise IT, a flood of devices inseparable from their wearers - and the security and infrastructural risks they pose - would be enough to give Robocop a headache.

IT managers have seen all this before: wearable technology is, in many respects, simply the second wave of the BYOD movement. By drawing on lessons learnt from BYOD management, IT leaders can lay down secure, scalable frameworks that account for wearable devices’ myriad applications while pre-empting their potential vulnerabilities. Treat these cyborg devices with suspicion now, and they and their users could be far better off in the long run.

Through a looking glass, securely

The top priority for the wearable technology market is innovation, not security. If you take a look at the main industries to embrace wearable tech - retail, medical, and finance - you'll see they share a burning need for faster and more pervasive access to information. It's the same for consumers: the most successful wearables, like Google Glass and Fitbit, are those which "augment" reality to provide their users with an enhanced version of the physical world. They're always connected, and always with you - which immediately raises significant security concerns that span both digital and physical realms.

The most obvious of these is the range of new attack vectors that wearable technologies introduce: a mobile credit card reader, such as those emerging in early-adopter retailers, could be compromised with malware to swipe customers' details before they even get to the secure corporate network. Just like with BYOD, these devices are prone to vulnerabilities and can't be directly secured by IT staff - only now, they exist with far more forms and applications than just smartphones and tablets. 

At the same time, the omnipresence of wearable devices also opens up new risks to organisational data, particularly if these devices are compromised. Hijacking a device like a Google Glass, for example, could provide malicious parties with audio-visual access to a whole new range of information, including privileged conversations and physical documents. And demand for live information from users means that IT managers will need to act much faster - or ideally predict - when a breach occurs.

Is your network fit for more bits?

Wearable technologies also inevitably rely on the network to maintain functionality - which, in turn, has the potential to dramatically increase demand on enterprise bandwidth. Not only are these devices always connected, but they also have a tendency to run data-heavy applications (like video streaming through Google Glass or Oculus Rift). Wearables like smart watches, glasses and goggles also introduce a range of new network end-points that connect to other devices in increasingly complex ways. This in turn can multiply the data traffic on the network AND open up new vulnerabilities of which net admins have little to no visibility.

All these new risks may make the average IT manager, fresh out of the BYOD trenches, feel like they're facing termination. But the lessons learnt from BYOD are, in fact, immensely applicable to the challenges of the approaching wearable era.

BYOD v2.0

The best advice to managing wearable technology security is the same as with BYOD: don't let wearables connect to the corporate network. If they do, IT managers should focus on monitoring what devices – wearable or otherwise – seek access to sensitive data at its source, rather than trying to contain the complex processes through which wearables synchronise and share data. They will also have to keep revising their definition of access points to stay up to date with incoming wearable technologies. Some companies like Virgin, for example, are already using Glass to look up customer details on the fly (quite literally, for Virgin's check-in staff): these new end-points demand new protocols both digital (tracking in/out connections for each device) and physical (locking them away at the end of business hours).

The threat of insecure apps running on wearable devices is also one that many IT pros will be familiar with. Just like phones and tablets, wearable technologies should be running fully-patched and verified apps if they're operating within the enterprise domain. Employee education is even more important here than with the first generation of mobile devices. 

Many wearables will run on operating systems which aren't immediately compatible with existing enterprise tools, so employee compliance is arguably the easiest way to ensure apps are as secure as they can be. And because wearable technologies blur the line between offline and online information, a vast number of their uses - such as video recording, or analysis of physical environment data - can't be directly checked by IT managers no matter how zealous they are.

This dialogue between IT managers and end-users is so critical because of the sheer pace of innovation when it comes to wearable technology. We're not so far from "Minority Report" scenarios when devices react to our voices, gestures, and even thoughts - devices like the Rift are already challenging how we define user interfaces and interactions. The audio-visual, biometric, and telemetric data from these technologies are already being applied to "hack" our everyday behaviours to become more productive, whether it be in our work or health and wellbeing. If IT managers can use their BYOD experiences to develop robust systems and processes ahead of time, their organisations will be able to make the most of the wearable revolution.


Lawrence Garvin is Head Geek at SolarWinds


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