9 keys to making BYOD work

A slew of recent surveys has confirmed what everyone knew — that people use their personal mobile devices on the job, often regardless of whether their organization has a formal “bring your own device” policy.

One survey found that 81 percent of the people polled use their smart phones or tablets for work. Another put it closer to 90 percent. And the trend has extended to government, though at a lower rate because of some agency restrictions.

Recognizing the inevitable, agencies at all levels of government are developing, or at least considering, BYOD policies. The General Services Administration and Veterans Affairs Department, for example, are running pilot programs.

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What are some of the key elements to consider for living in a BYOD world? The advice below was drawn from industry experts in response to e-mailed questions about BYOD best practices. It isn’t comprehensive, but it does address crucial aspects of letting employees do what they’re going to do anyway.

1. Support a passel of platforms.

“Employees will work around corporate IT infrastructure in order to be productive and find ways to leverage their personal devices, regardless of if they’re supported or even permitted,” said Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist at Mimecast.

So it’s important to support as many platforms, including their social collaboration platforms, as possible. It can help ensure security and productivity.

2. Track apps and devices.

“At the rate new devices come out, this sounds like a job for Sisyphus,” Borenstein said. Nevertheless, agencies need to keep track of what their employees are using, and there are steps they can take.

The apps employees will use on the job should be packaged and tested by the agency and made available through an app store, portal or something similar, said Steve Schmidt, vice president of product management at Flexera Software, adding that many agencies already have or are setting up app stores.

In addition, an internal app store can set and enforce policies allowing only certain apps to be downloaded to specific device types, he said.

Agencies also need to be mindful of software licensing, making sure there is a license to cover apps employees download, or they risk being “exposed to millions of dollars of unbudgeted expense if it is out of compliance with its software license agreement,” he said.

The key is having a software license optimization strategy that automatically inventories the licenses and where they’re being used.

“Software licenses move very quickly and dynamically in a BYOD environment,” Schmidt said, “so most agencies cannot hope to remain in compliance…unless they have automation in place to ensure license optimization.”

Most software license optimization systems also have asset management capabilities that can be used to track devices such as iPhones, iPads and BlackBerrys, Schmidt said. He recommended making use of them to make sure they’re aware of which devices are accessing the network.

3. Control access.

Because authentication is identity-based, the number and types of devices are not a factor, Borenstein said. The issue for agencies developing BYOD policies is aligning them with the requirements for Personal Identity Verification cards used for authentication by civilian agencies. Down the road that might not be a problem, however, as a number of industry experts say they expect PIV cards, and hardware authentication in general, to be replaced by biometrics on mobile devices.

4. Educate employees.

Probably the biggest concern with BYOD is that it can put agency data at risk if smart phones or tablets are lost, stolen or compromised. “The first line of defense is education,” Borenstein said. “Employees who understand the risks are less likely to mismanage corporate data. But there is also a role for device-specific programs that search for classified data.”

Mobile devices also can pick up malware contained in apps users download, but “this is more or less the same set of problems we're dealing with in browsers today,” Borenstein said. Here, again, employee education — beware third-party apps, links in e-mail, etc. — is the best defense, but it’s not that much different with mobile devices as it is with any other computing device. “A hard problem remains hard,” he said.

5. Promote lock/wipe/locate apps.

Agencies “definitely” should have policies for using lock/wipe/locate apps on devices accessing their networks. “This is a fairly standard best practice,” Schmidt said.

But be aware that this approach isn’t always feasible, Borenstein said, adding that “a bad version of such a program is very bad.” He recommends applying lock/wipe/locate policies, “but recognize that there may be devices, particularly the latest and greatest, without any good options for such software.”

6. Secure your messages.

E-mail security comes into play with mobile devices because of their propensity to be lost or stolen. There are a number of secure e-mail apps designed for mobile devices, such as those from Good Technology, Mirapoint, Mimecast and ProofPoint Mobile. Borenstein said they should at least require an extra password for access.

7. Staff up or get to the cloud.

If an organization wants to support BYOD, it needs enough IT staff members to keep track of devices and applications on the network. If there is not enough staff to cover the effort, agency chiefs should consider outsourcing IT support to the cloud, when feasible.

8. Know when to say no.

Personal devices aren’t appropriate for every environment, such as classified networks, but the leaders of those agencies and divisions already know that. Another place to keep them out of: industrial control systems, said Jacob Kitchel, senior manager of security and compliance for Industrial Defender.

"Critical infrastructure is a whole different ball game when it comes to BYOD,” Kitchel said. “BYOD is a no-no within the Industrial Control System environments that operate critical infrastructure.”

“Given the possibility of affecting critical physical processes and due to compliance concerns, ICS operators, engineers and technicians shouldn’t be attaching the BYOD devices to the ICS networks.”

9. Get control of patches and updates.

Twenty-five or 30 percent of the “software estate” — including new versions, patches and updates — changes every year, Schmidt said. It was hard enough keeping up when everybody was on desktops or laptops, but BYOD requires continual application readiness best practices, he said.

Schmidt recommends a six-step best-practice policy to ensure app readiness.

  • Identify.  Get an accurate view of the apps in an organization and take stock of what is actually being used.
  • Rationalize. With a good view of what’s deployed and what’s actually used, enterprises can decide whether to continue to support or consolidate applications.
  • Assess compatibility. When implementing new applications, check for suitability, as not all applications they own will work. A key here is automation, without which it’s difficult to know which applications will have compatibility issues.
  • Plan. Once you have a list of rationalized applications and know the compatibility, you’ll have a clear view of the magnitude of the project and can calculate costs and likely duration time frames.
  • Fix and package. Organizations will need to convert applications to the required format, a process helped by automation.
  • Deploy. Many organizations are setting up app portals for distributing packaged apps to employees. If the App Portal is linked to an application readiness tool, populating the storefront with apps and making them available to users with requisite access rights can be simple. And if the portal is tied on the back end to the enterprise license optimization system, IT can create a seamless app store experience for end users while still maintaining continual compliance, financial accountability and control.



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