Dropbox and Angry Birds are blacklisted Mobile Apps

Summary:A lot of companies have chosen to blacklist certain Apps. The question is, "Does it do any good?"

There's a new threat on the horizon perpetrated by none other than The Corporate Machine: App Blacklisting. Seriously. There are Apps researched by and supplied by Zenprise that have been blacklisted, whitelisted and others that are in the undecided list.

Can it be true that there are Apps that are so offensive or unproductive that they're blacklisted?

Yes.

Some for productivity reasons and others for security concerns.

Is the concern legitimate?

My opinion is split, yes and no.

The Argument For Blacklisting

I can understand blacklisting if there's actually a threat of a security breach for government contractors or other "sensitive nature" type companies. Internal security is a problem in any company and blacklisting certain insecure Apps has its place. Apps such as Dropbox, Box and other cloud-based storage makes companies vulnerable to easy intellectual property theft.

Blacklisting games like Angry Birds will certainly cut down on time-wasting in that realm. I've never played a game at work. Fortunately, I'm always too busy to engage in such worthless pursuits. I hardly have time for it, when I'm not working, so blacklisting a game for me, is just fine. People shouldn't play games at work and blacklisting them is an excellent way of guaranteeing that they don't do it.

The Argument Against Blacklisting

This one is very simple: If I were a thief and wanted your information, blacklisting Dropbox wouldn't deter me at all. In fact, you can cut off Internet access completely and I can still steal the information, if I have access to it. Your best course of action is to audit your files so that you know who opens them and when. With the correct software, you can tell who prints, copies, edits, etc. your valuable files. However, it's still possible to steal your information without copying or printing it.

People in your company can still take pictures of the information with their camera-equipped phones. Sure, they have to open the file to snap a picture of it. But, is opening a file a violation?

And, if by some chance, you're able to stop any photography as well, you can't take away my memory or my ability to transcribe the document into another local document. All I'm saying is that, if someone wants your valuable information or data, there's a way to get it, if it's accessible. Dropbox is the least of your worries.

As for time-wasting, I've seen people play Solitaire at work, which is irritating to those of us with no time for such foolishness. In fact, there were two people with whom I worked (more than ten years ago now) who played Solitaire so much that I wrote on their cubicle whiteboards, "Hey, why don't you try Two-handed Solitaire?" It was an online game where you could play against someone else. To my surprise, I saw them both playing it later.

Sure, there are always time-wasters in any organization. The occasional game of Angry Birds isn't going to lower your stock prices but, if someone is a repeat offender, just terminate them. There's no point in paying someone to play a game. Adults, in a working environment, should be able to govern themselves and do their work. If not, reprimand them. If it continues, terminate them. Very simple. Blacklisting seems a little harsh for adults.

The Statistics

  • 3x more blacklisted Apps in Q1 2012 than Q4 2011; 2x more whitelisted Apps.
  • Top blacklisted apps include: Angry Birds, Facebook, Google Play (app store), Dropbox, YouTube, Skype, Evernote and Cydia.
  • Top whitelisted Apps include: Skype, Citrix, Adobe and NitroDesk TouchDown.
  • Undecided, some companies are blacklisting the following Apps while others are whitelisting: Skype, Citrix, Evernote, Keynote, Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox.

A lot of companies blacklist Cydia. Cydia is a site (App Store) that allows users with "jailbroken" devices to install rogue Apps to their devices that, in some cases, do pose a security threat to systems and data. Personally, I would ban any jailbroken device from my network. Most MDM applications allow you to exclude jailbroken devices, which is a good idea.

From a jailbreaker's point-of-view, there's the question of freedom--the freedom to choose for one's self. I understand your desire to be free (and agree to a point) but you can practice your freedoms outside of my network.

In My Humble Opinion

I think that blacklisting Apps sends the message that you don't trust your employees. You don't trust them not to steal. You don't trust them not to waste time. You just don't trust them to make good decisions. It's a very small number of people who would steal your data or your time from you.

It actually reeks a bit of fascism to ban Apps or access to those Apps. I think that your efforts, as a corporate decision maker, are better spent delivering value to your customers rather than worrying about how an employee is stealing a few minutes here and there playing Angry Birds. Also consider that allowing him to play a few rounds of Angry Birds might just keep him from heading to the rooftop with a rifle, starting his own religion or planning a corporate takeover.

It's no wonder the birds are angry.

What do you think of blacklisting Apps? Do you think it does any good or is it just another waste of time comparable to playing too much Angry Birds?

Topics: Security, Apps, Mobility, Wi-Fi

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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