Dropbox and Angry Birds are blacklisted Mobile Apps

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?


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


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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  • OMG! Censorship? Proscription? Blacklists?

    In America? In the free West?? I thought Uncle Adolf invented all of that, and only the dastardly fascists practiced such things!

    Tell me it ain't true Herr Hess.
  • Company assets, company rules

    They are NOT your personal devices. They are devices to DO WORK, not play games or store your data.

    Dropbox can be a HUGE liability to the company. Not only can it be used for stealing IP from a company, it can also be (unwillingly) used to distribute malware. And that is ignoring any liability due to users downloading and storing pirated music and videos to watch/listen at work.

    Angry Birds may not be a liability .... but it is a time wasting device and companies aren't paying employees to waste time.
    • Nonsense

      The company doesn't own you. If you can't use the device for personal activities then leave it on your desk when you go home. What's that you say? "They gave it to you so they could contact you at home"? Either there is a strict firewall between what's mine and what's the company's or there isn't.

      Talented, creative people don't stop working at 5PM and they don't stop their personal lives at 8AM.
      • Oh yes

        those talented and creative people just start playing Angry Birds at 5pm...
    • Why only Dropbox?

      Why not any/all non- corporate cloud services?

      Allowing time wasters like Angrybirds and Solitaire are actually beneficial from a stress relief perspective - increases productivity. The challenge is managing abuse. That is a management job, not an IT blacklist task.
    • BYOD

      What if it is your personal device? The line is certainly blurred these days between work and non-work. That is the reality of corporate life these past few years. Also, if I work nights and weekends is it stealing company time if I take a 10 minute break and play a game?

      Stealing information is more clear cut of course but if the device is the personal property of the employee you can't limit what apps he has on it.

      I think it has to fall back to management if people waste company time or steal information.
    • Uhhh yes it is

      I carry my Evo-3D on my hip, and I pay the communication charges. So long as I don't tie into their network with it, the business's security is their problem.
      As for playing Angry Birds, where I work we're given two 15 minute breaks on the clock, and an hour off the clock for lunch. I play a Pool game on my phone during these times, sometimes. Why should the company get to dictate what I do with my device that I pay for on my own time?
      It's called "feudalism".
  • Corporate liable - company policy

    If the devices that were part of the survey then the company can do as they please as noted it's their asset. Don't like that? BYO.

    Looking at the list most Apps have DLP concerns and the rest are blatant time wasters and pose no business value. I'm tired of people that feel entitled to use company devices as their personal play things.

    Now if a company wanted to restrict how I use my personal smartphone in any way (and to some people applying security does just that) then I won't bother getting access to corporate resources and use what work provides.

    Why should the company benefit (saving money) and restrict me? No thanks. I'll take the company Blackberry and keep my work and personal usage seperate. Really this is th best method and has worked for years as each side is defined clearly. The whole BYOD agenda is driven by security companies and spoiled employees who want things their way. Be careful what you wish for people.
    • BYOD reality

      A co-worker's spouse works for a company that has embraced BYOD, partially, as a cost cutting measure. An employee quit on the spot after a heated dispute with a manager. Security tried to prevent the now former employee from leaving [b]with the employee's privately owned device[/b]. That got the cops involved, who arrested the security guard. (Unlawful imprisonment).The company demanded access to the now former employee's device, and was told to 'pound sand' by the employee's attorney. Now the company faces a lawsuit. You have got to wonder, do you really save that much?

      With an employer owned device, the answer is clear - it is [b]the company's property[/b], end of discussion.
  • It's a compromise

    That the reality in BYOD. If you want a single device for work and personal life, both you and you're employer are going to have to make some concessions. Some like MobileAdmin are not willing to make those concessions, which is fine, then use what the company provides for work and then use whatever you choose for everything else.

    But, if you're one of those that has to use your own device, whatever your preference, because you don't want to be bothered by carrying two phones or just feel more comfortable using iPhone instead of BB (or whatever), then you have to live with some restrictions. Sure, it's your device, but they have every right to secure their data if they choose to allow BYOD. You have choices. Those choices may not offer a completely perfect solution for you, but that's life, deal with it and pick the one that's best for you.

    Kind of funny, people want to whine about security/restrictions when on the topic of BYOD, but they never seem to complain about being able to submit a portion of their bill for reimbursement, a portion that likely covers at least part of their personal usage (voice AND data). My last employer covered all but $20. My current employer reimburses about 70% of what the average single line account w/ voice and data would cost. Both those reimbursement policies seem pretty favorable to the employee in my opinion.
    • It's only a compromise if it's a compromise

      Kind of funny, employers whine and complain about security/restrictions on the topic of BYOD but never seem to want to pay for any portion of an employee's bill for reimbursement. Some employers also want you to hand over your facebook password.

      It depends on your employer, and not all weigh their employee's interests and rights against their own. If you're with an employer that allows reimbursement then that's great; some don't. The less reimbursement, then the less the employer should be able to demand.
  • It is company bandwidth!

    I don't complain, just use my own personal wireless connection on my dime!
  • Obviously the author has never heard of the concept

    of barrier to entry. By making it more difficult to steal, thefts drop.
  • He really misses the point on apps like dropbox

    Memorizing information by looking at a screen and transcribing it is hardly the same as moving big files effortlessly to a cloud. Most theft is a combination of motivation and opportunity. It's very difficult to control the motivation to steal if you have employees that require access to easily monetized information, you can watch them, do background checks, etc. but it's still difficult and a tremendous liability for companies. You are left with trying to control the opportunity.

    Moving big files quickly to a cloud environment designed to allow you to move it to another device creates a significant opportunity.

    We are struggling with this entire landscape now - we want productive employees that have access to tools they like and want. We don't have the luxury of simply trusting them and hoping for the best.
  • I guess this depends on WHO is furnishing the device.

    If a company makes me pay for a device and the associated data plan as an expectation of employment, and doesn't pay for any of it, then when it comes to telling me what can be on that phone they can take a very long jog off a very short pier. It is my device and I'm paying for it and not getting repaid the cost by the company so they have no say in what goes on with that device. If they want that level of control then they have to break down and provide devices. They are trying to have their cake and eat it too in that situation. They are trying to have an iron-fisted control while expecting others to cover the cost of that control. As the Brits say: bollocks.

    Now, if the company is providing the device and the service, then I have no problem with following any rules they set for [b]that[/b] device.
    • That cuts both ways

      Reimbursement aside (I question any company that requires it and doesn't either provide or reimburse), BYOD was and is a largely employee driven phenomenon. Many employees didn't want to be bothered by carrying two phones and at the same time wanted their choice of phone. From the employer's perspective, if all I want you to do is to be able to check e-mail, calendar and make calls, then any fully subsidized smartphone can handle the task. That being said, as an employer, I don't want to foot the bill so you can have the latest 64 GB iPhone/Android/etc. just because you like it better than what I can provide at no cost.

      At the end of the day, both sides have to make some concessions for BYOD to work. That includes cost and security.
      • That is when compromise steps into the picture.

        If the company would purchase say a BBRY Bold 9000 at the subsidized price for an employee to use, and I'd rather have an iPhone 4S 64 GB that I don't yet own, the employer could do a partial reimbursement on the subsidized price of that. Perhaps as little as a reasonable 25 percent, as well as a partial reimbursement on the bill each month that I am with the company. Should I leave the company before say the two year contract is up, I personally would not think it unreasonable for the company to expect me to pay back the 25 percent of the subsidized price. Now as to reimbursement, many companies offer what is known as a FAN discount, I forgot what FAN stands for at the moment. The last company I worked for that offered one offered 19.5 percent, I would definitely accept that in lieu of reimbursement. Often a FAN discount is left on the account until you try to add another one.
  • work when you are at work, play when you are not

    How did it become common place to assume that you have some inalienable right to goof off on company time? What privilege are you invoking in order to play Angry Birds at work, or over a company network?

    Justify it.
    • Really?

      Harsh! Or, perhaps just misinformed :) Those who do that are usually more productive. http://mashable.com/2012/04/11/facebook-workplace/
  • Fire away!

    Now more than ever, there are competent people who are underemployed. Don't be afraid to get rid of your dead wood. Rather than protect someone from themselves, I'd like to know who is wired to defraud the company on a regular basis. If you can't trust them with the obvious stuff, then you sure can't trust them in more secretive situations. We've had wonderful results in looking for new people to fill recently vacant positions. There's plenty of talent looking for better jobs now - give them a chance. They are motivated, unlike the lump playing Solitaire next to you.