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Behold, the false securities of the BYOD bubble

Work on your own machine? Using cloud applications? Sure, it's a new day! Until things break. Then you're on your own. (A lesson from ZDNet HQ.)
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

A word of warning, dear readers: this ZDNet post is about to throw ZDNet's own IT organization under the bus.

But hey, they should have been reading all our great bring-your-own-device coverage, you know? Got to keep them on their toes. (That's the fun part about writing for ZDNet: you are simultaneously the expert resource and the customer.)

We're a pretty tech-forward organization here at CBS Interactive. (For the unfamiliar, that's ZDNet's parent company; we share it with CNET, GameSpot and TechRepublic, among many others.) 

When Microsoft Outlook reared its ugly e-mail head, we ditched it for Google Apps -- across the entire enterprise.

When our corporate Lenovo PCs aged beyond recognition -- Windows XP, people, Windows XP! -- we began ditching them for Apple MacBooks.

We work from home a lot, we use VPNs regularly and many of our tools are built to be accessed outside the company network, on personal devices, desktop and mobile. 

We even had Steve Comstock, CBSi's VP of Site Infrastructure, make a guest appearance on a ZDNet Hot Topics webcast about BYOD.

All in all, not bad for big ol' CBS Corporation, right? We're not at the tip of the industry spear, but we're certainly part of its head.

There are many shades of BYOD, however. Enjoying these various capabilities à la carte creates a false sense of security -- that you're further ahead than you really are.

Today I learned that lesson the hard way. 

Because of our flexible work resources, I very often use my personal MacBook to work -- often from home. I'm using it right now, in fact. If there weren't a VPN icon running in my Dock, I wouldn't be the wiser. It's as seamless as you want BYOD to be.

The tool with which we file our expense reports is called TREX. The system is a Java applet that allows us to automatically pull in expenses charged to a corporate credit card, categorize them according to company policy and submit them to a supervisor. It's a little clunky, and occasionally gets funny with certain browsers, but it's a dream compared to anything involving a multifunction printer-scanner-copier and inter-office mail.

Here's the catch: it's a Java applet. That means the people who use it (that's me!) are subject to regular updates from Oracle, the parent company of the Java platform. As you'd expect from a pillar of the technology industry, Oracle does deliver those updates every quarter, patching security holes and bringing its platform into the present. 

As a responsible computer user, my personal machine is always up-to-date. I'm running Apple OS X 10.8.2 and Java version SE 7 Update 15. 

So imagine my surprise when I receive the following error message:

This application requires Sun Microsystem's Java 2 version 1.5 or higher; or IBM's Java 2 version 1.4.2 or higher; or Apple's Java 2 version 1.5.0_07 or higher. You currently have installed Oracle Corporation's version 1.7.0_15.

This is stupid, I think. I won't be in the office for at least a week, and I really need to get that expense report in. I'm already way behind on it, and I could really use the reimbursement I'm due. 

No problem -- I'll just file a ticket and get the IT guys to downgrade Java, since I know that it will take the central team awhile to address TREX's incompatibility with the latest Java update. 

I file the ticket. Within the hour, IT gets in touch.

"Is this your personal machine?" they ask.

"Yes," I reply. "But I'm working from home for a week, and I really need to file my expenses."

"Sorry, we are only able to work on company equipment."


That sound you just heard? That's the BYOD bubble popping.

For years, I have been happily working remotely thanks to the many cloud-based tools provided by our IT organization. For years, I have happily used my (superior) personal machine with a VPN, boosting my productivity and keeping secure.

Today, that false sense of security revealed itself. There was a visible glitch in the Matrix; this worker of the future got snapped back into the present. And the present is a world where IT will support but not service alien hardware.

I've always been fine with a world like that. In my opinion, if you break your own computer, you fix your own computer. If I buy into BYOD, I take on that risk. I exchange the responsibility of liability for freedom.

But what if your computer is just fine? What if, in an age of consumerization, it's the enterprise that's broken?

What then?

Photo: Justin Miller/Flickr 

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