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BYOD brings new security challenges for IT: Allowing greater access while protecting networks

The increasing trend toward BYOD -- bring your own device -- is causing companies to explore new approaches for solving support, management, and security challenges.
Written by Dana Gardner, Contributor

While so-called BYOD isn't necessarily new -- IT departments, after all, have been supporting mobile "road warriors" since the 1980s, the rising tide of end users seeking the use and support of their own consumer devices is something quite different.

It's so different that IT departments are grasping for any standard or proven approaches that make bring your own device (BYOD) access of enterprise resources both secure and reliable. The task is dauntingly complex, and new and unforeseen consequences of BYOD are cropping up regularly -- from deluged help desk to app performance snafus to new forms of security breaches.

The next BriefingsDirect discussion then works to bring clarity to solving the BYOD support, management, and security dilemma. To do so, we gathered a panel to explore some of the new and more effective approaches for making BYOD both safe and controlled.

The panel consists of Jonathan Sander, director of IAM Product Strategy at Dell Software, and Jane Wasson, senior product marketing manager for Mobile Security at Dell Software. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Below are some excerpts.

Ease and speed

Wasson: Industry analysts are now seeing that more than 50 percent of workers are using personal mobile devices in some capacity to access business networks. Increasingly, they're asking to access not just email and calendar, but also enterprise apps and resources.

Jane Wasson
Image: LinkedIn

IT did a great job of supporting mobile workers with laptops and early mobile devices for quite some time, but much of that was with IT-controlled systems.

What we're seeing now that's a little bit different is increasingly those mobile workers like the ease of use and the speed at which they can get to their email and their calendar apps with their own mobile devices. They now want IT to extend that so that they can get the same access to enterprise apps and resources on mobile devices that they've enjoyed on their IT controlled laptops over the years.

That creates a new challenge for IT. All of a sudden, rather than having a controlled set of devices and a controlled environment that they can manage, they have a variety of devices that end users have purchased. IT had no control over that choice and what's already loaded on those devices.

They're trying to figure out, given that environment, how to securely enable access to enterprise apps and resources and give those end users that speed of access that they want and the ease of access that they want, but still maintain security.

They don't want their back-end networks infected with malware. They don't want to have rogue users finding laptops or mobile devices and being able to access enterprise systems. It's a huge challenge for IT support groups.

History of breaches

It seems that there are unintended consequences here. What's happening now that we have this pull in the BYOD direction?

Sander: There are a lot of consequences, and understanding all of them is still in process. That's part of the problem. All of the problems that people are going to have as a result of BYOD are TBD. One of the ones that's most apparent right away is security. The approaches that people have taken in the past to lock down anything that's related to mobile have all centered on exactly what Jane pointed out. They were in charge of the device in some fashion. They had a foot in that door, and they could use some kind of lock-down.

Jonathan Sander
Image: LinkedIn

I was sitting with someone at one of the big financial firms in New York City the other day. We asked them about their BYOD strategy, and he took a humorous approach to it. He said, "Yes, we have a really well-defined BYOD strategy -- as long as the device is the one we assign to you and uses the software that we approved and control all the policy on, you can bring it." I think that that's not too uncommon.

A lot of the firms that are very security sensitive have worked it out. On the other end of the scale, I've talked to people who say that BYOD is not something that is they are doing, but rather is being inflicted on them. That's the language they put it in. It relates back to that security problem, because when they're looking at trying to understand how their data is going to be present on these devices and what impact that will have on their risk standpoint, it's almost impossible to quantify.

If you look at the history of breaches, even with the controlled laptops that they had, you had laptops being stolen with tons of data on them. You know what happens the first time you get one of those breaches stemming from someone leaving their cellphone in the back seat of a taxi cab? These are things that are keeping people up at night.

Add to this that a lot of times, the security approaches they have taken have all been leveraging the fact that there is a single vendor that is somehow responsible for a lot of what they do. Now, with the explosion of the variety of devices and the fact that they have no control over what their employee might purchase to bring in, that notion is simply gone. With it went any hope of a standard, at least anytime soon, to help secure and lock down the data on all these different devices.

Another aspect of this is the diversity of the variables. There is web access, native apps, a variety of different carriers, different types of networks within those carriers, and all these different plans.

I suppose it's difficult to have just a standard operating procedure. It seems like there have to be dozens of standard operating procedures. Is that what they're finding in the field, and how does any organization come to grips with such diversity?

Sander: You're absolutely right. Diversity, first and foremost, is the challenge. There are also a lot of other trends that are bringing more diversity into IT at the same time, and then BYOD just becomes one dimension of diversity.

You mentioned web control. If you're assuming that this is a web application that they're rolling out on their own, that's one thing. If it's a cloud app, what happens when you have somebody using a cloud app on a BYOD device? How do you insert any control into that scenario at all? It gets very complex, very quickly.

Forced authorization

Let's look at some specific types of starting points, putting in the blocking and tackling necessary to start to get a handle on this. Jane, what should companies be doing, in terms of setting up some building blocks, the means to tackle the reliability, security, and diversity?

Wasson: The good news is that being able to support remote workers is not new, because most companies already have policies in place to manage remote workers. What's new is that, rather than the devices that are accessing the enterprise apps and resources being IT controlled, those devices are no longer IT controlled.

Very often, the policies are there. What they need to do is rethink those policies in light of a mobile worker, a mobile device environment with so much of the same capability. You have to be able to know which devices are connecting to the network. Are those devices harboring malware that could infect your network? Are those devices locked down, so that authentication is necessary to get into your network?

You need to find technologies, basically, that allow you to force authentication on those mobile users before they can access your network. You need to find technologies that can help you interrogate those mobile devices to make sure that they're not going to infect your network with anything nasty. You need to find the technologies that allow you to look at that traffic as it's coming onto your network, and make sure that it's not carrying malware or other problems.

What mobile device management needs to do for them is what laptop device management has done for them in the past. The key things to think about there are looking at when you're actually deploying those devices. Maybe you have end users that are purchasing personal units, and maybe you don't know initially. Maybe you don't have the same level of knowledge about that unit or ways to track it.

What you can do is introduce technologies onto your network, so that when your users log in to the network or authenticate onto the network, the device is queried, so that you are able to do some level of tracking of that device. You're able to potentially provide self-service portals, so that employees have the ability to download enterprise mobile applications onto that device.

You have the ability to very simply load onto those devices agents that can automatically query devices and make sure that they're configured to meet your security requirements.

There are technologies available to do mobile device management and provide that level of oversight, so that you can inventory devices. You can have a level of knowledge and management over configuration and software applications. And you do have the ability to control, at some level, the security settings on those devices. A mobile device management platform needs to do those functions for the IT support organization across mobile operating systems.

Layered defense

I should imagine, Jonathan, that an organization that's had experience with managing laptops and full clients, as well as thin clients and zero clients, would have a leg up on moving into mobile device management. Is that the case?

Sander: To Jane's point, they should have policies in place that are going to apply here, so that in that sense, they have a leg up. They definitely need the technology in place to deliver on it, and that's on the device layer.

On the application layer, the data layer, the place where all the intellectual property (IP) for an organization sits in most cases, those layers should be -- the word "should" is tricky -- pretty well secured already. The idea is that they have already been on there on laptops, trying to get in from the outside, for a while, and there should be some level of lock-down there.

If you have a healthy layered defense in place so that you can get the access to people outside of your walls, then your mobile access people coming in with their own devices, in a lot of cases, are just going to look like a new client on that web application.

The trick comes when you have organizations that want to take it to the next level and supply some sort of experience that is different on the mobile device. That might mean the paranoid version, where I want to make sure that the user on the mobile device has a lot less access, and I want that to be governed by the fact that they are on the mobile device. I need to take that into account. But there is also the very proactive view that you don't have to be paranoid about it, and you can embrace it.

Access control

Jane, I have also heard that you need to think about networks in a different way. With some relevance to the past, network containment has been something organizations have done for remote branches. They've used VPNs with the end devices, fat clients, if you will. How does network containment mature for BYOD support?

Wasson: What's different here is that now you have a mobile device that is the conduit coming into the network. Whereas in the past, folks had been using primarily laptop VPN clients, that paradigm changes a little for the mobile world. Mobile users like the convenience and the ease of being able to use mobile applications.

The challenge for IT departments is how to create a simple user experience for mobile device to access the back-end network and how to make sure that for the mobile user not only is it simple and easy, but they are authenticating to that network for security.

Also, because with that mobile user it's a personal device and they control what mobile service they are using, IT groups need to care a lot about the networks from which the user is accessing the corporate environment.

For example, you want to make sure that you're using an encrypted SSL VPN connection to go back into your corporate datacenters. It needs to not only be encrypted as SSL VPN, but you also want to make sure that it's a very easy and simple experience for your mobile user.

What IT groups need to be looking for is that very simple mobile worker experience that allows you to very quickly authenticate onto the network and establish encrypted SSL VPN into the networks, so that you don't have to worry about interception on a Wi-Fi network or interception on a mobile service network in a public place.

The need for network access control, so that once you know that users are coming in securely, once you know they are authenticated onto the network, you can easily enable them to access the correct enterprise applications and resources that they should have privileges for.

The challenge there for IT is that you want to make sure that it's easy for IT to provision. You want a technology that recognizes that you have mobile users coming and allows you to very easily provision those users with the privileges you want them to have on your network and make sure that they are coming in over secure networks. There are lots of implications for networks, there but there are solutions to help address that.

Sander: It goes back to that idea of trying to be either both paranoid or proactive about the whole BYOD sphere. When you're trying to figure out what data you want people to have access to, you're not just going to take into account some rigid set of rules based on who they are.

Context is king in a lot of cases these days, when you are trying to figure out a good approach to security. What better context to be aware of than one person sitting at a desk behind all of corporate protection accessing a system versus the same person on their tablet in a Starbucks.

These are clearly two different risk categories. If they want to get access to the same data, then you're probably going to do slightly different things to have things happen.

You are going to have lots of different layers of security, but they all need to be very well connected to one another. They need to be able to share data, share that context, and in that sharing, be able to create the right circumstance to have a secure access to whatever data is going to make the efficiency for that person be maximized.

Be an enabler

When you do go mobile first with your network containment activities, with your connected security around access control, and when you've elevated management to mobile device management, you're probably an organization with better policies and with better means or security in total.

Am I off-base here, or is there a more robust level within an IT organization when they embrace BYOD in mobile and mobile first becomes really a just better way of doing IT?

Sander: I agree that the worst consequence of not doing the mobile first is that you're going to have people end-gaming IT. You're going to have shadow IT spring up in lines of business. You're going to have smart end users simply figuring it out for themselves. Believe me, if you don't proactively lock it down, there are lots of ways to get it as mobile devices. Those companies that do think mobile first are the ones that are going to innovate their way out of those problems.

They're the ones who are going to have the right mentality at the outset, where they formulate policy with that in mind and where they adopt technology with that in mind. You can see that happening today.

I see companies that have taken advantage of a mobile platform and tried to make sure that it is going to boost productivity. But the very first thing that happens, when they do that, is they get a huge pushback from security, from the risk people, and sometimes even from executive-level folks, who are a little more conservative in a lot of cases, and tend to think in terms of the impact first. Because they want to push into that mobility mindset, that pushback forces them to think their way through all the security impacts and get over those hurdles to get what they really want.

The idea is that if you do it well, doing good security for mobility and BYOD on the first try, getting that good security, becomes an enabler as more waves of it hit you, because you've already got it figured out. When the next line of business shows up and wants to do it seriously, you've got a good pattern there, which completely discourages all of that shadow IT and other nonsense, because you can give them good answers, and they want them.

They don't want to figure out ways around you. They want you to be an enabler. I was reading recently how security has to go from being the "department of no" to the "department of how," because a lot of times, that's really what it boils down to. If you're simply going to say no, they're going to figure out a way around you. If you tell them how to do it in a secure fashion, they'll do that. That's why they're asking in the first place. They want you to enable them.

Do we have any examples or anecdotes of organizations that have taken this plunge, embraced BYOD, perhaps with some mobile first mentality thrown in, and what are the results? What did they get?

Wasson: Educational institutions are probably some of the earlier adopters for using mobile platforms to access their back-end systems, and yet educational institutions also are very often required by law not to make inappropriate sites and things available to students.

We've seen educational institutions deploying mobile device management platforms, and in this case our Dell KACE K3000 Mobile Management platform with our mobile security solutions, such as our Mobile Connect application on devices, and Secure Remote appliances, enabling secure SSL VPN connection. What we're seeing is that the IT organizations have the level of control over those devices that they need.

They can still give the freedom to the end user to choose those devices, yet they have the ability to manage those devices, manage security settings on those devices, authenticate those devices before they connect to the educational institution data centers, and automatically establish encrypted secure SSL VPN.

They're able to query the traffic to make sure that traffic isn't coming from or going to inappropriate sites and making sure that there's no malware on the network. And they're able to gain control and security of the mobile students, while still enabling those students to use their personal devices and the tools of their choice.

Productivity gain

Sander: The first one that comes to mind is a healthcare system we were working with. They were in a unique position in that they actually had a high percentage of doctor ownership. What I mean by that is that a lot of people who had an executive stake in the healthcare system were themselves doctors.

The doctors clearly wanted to use mobile devices as much as possible. They wanted to enable themselves to work on the run. They were running between hospitals. They were doing lots of different things where it's not a luxury to be on the tablet, but more of a necessity. So they challenged their IT folks to enable that.

Just as with this situation in other places, the first push back was from security. We worked with them, and the results were very similar to what Jane describes from a technology standpoint. Dell was able to supply them with mobile-device management and network controls. They had a really good single sign-on platform as well. So the doctors weren't constantly logging in again and again and again, even though they switched context and switched devices.

What they gained from that was a huge amount of productivity from the doctors. In this case, coincidentally, they gained big in the executive team's eyes for IT, because as I mentioned, a lot of them happened to be doctors. That was a good feedback loop. As they made that constituency very happy, that also fed directly into their executive team.

In this particular case they got a double benefit, not just happy users, but happy executives. I guess it's one of those, "I'm not just a president, but also user" type of things, where they were able to benefit twice from the same work.

Any thoughts, Jane, on where the security equation might shift in the future?

Wasson: Today much of the malware is targeting PCs and laptops, but now, as smartphones have become more prevalent in the marketplace, increasingly hackers and cyber terrorists are recognizing that that's a great new platform to go after.

We're seeing an increase development of malware to go after mobile devices as a conduit to get into back-end networks. We should absolutely expect that that's going to continue. We're seeing a trend towards more targeted attacks. As technologies to protect are developed, it's going to be very important to find those technologies that specifically protect from targeted attacks.

The thing that's becoming increasingly important is to make sure that your security technologies aren't just looking at the reputation of who is trying to get into the network and protocols, but is actually looking at the actual traffic packets themselves. It's important to be able to identify those targeted attacks, advanced persistent threats, or malware that's hidden within your traffic, because in the network at large, the presence of malware is only growing.

For mobile platforms, historically it wasn't as big a problem. Now that we see more of them out there, they're becoming a more important target. So it's very important for IT support organizations to get ahead of this.

They need to recognize that where they had previously focused mostly on what's happening with PC laptop traffic, they really need to focus a lot more on making sure that they have good strategies and good policies in place also to address that mobile traffic.

Moving parts

Let's get a little bit more on the BYOD vision from Dell Software. Let's hear what you have in mind in terms of how one should go about, as an IT organization, getting a better handle on this.

Sander: Our overall vision for security and we would definitely apply this to the BYOD sphere as well, is approaching it from a connected viewpoint. The word "connected" has a very specific context here.

You often hear talk from Dell and others about converged solutions, where essentially you bring a whole bunch of technologies into one solution, usually a box of some kind, and you deliver it as such.

Security is never going to look like that. Security is always going to have a lot of different moving parts, and that's because essentially security needs to map itself to the needs of the infrastructure that you've built. That's going to be dictated by organic growth, mergers and acquisitions, and everything in between.

We think about it as being a connected set of solutions. The focus of that is to make sure that we can deliver on all these different points that are necessary to build up the right context and the right controls, to make security meaningful in a context like BYOD, but not do it in a way that makes too many demands of the infrastructure. The way you get benefit from that is by having these connected pieces attached at the right points. You then get both the protection of going inside-out and outside-in.

Inside-out is the way you normally think about security in a lot of cases, where you build the controls for the things you are in charge of. You make sure that, as they go out into the world, they're heavily secured using all the themes you have at your disposal.

Outside-in is the traditional bad guys trying to get into your little world scenario. We want to make sure that the connected security solutions that we deliver can do both of these things, not only protect you from any insider threats and all of the things that can crop up from the way you build your technology that you are going to use to propel the business, but also protect you from the threats from the outside as well.

Wasson: The good news is that our vision basically supports IT in helping to enable the mobile worker to get that simple, secure, fast access to enterprise apps and resources. The way that we are doing this is by providing mobile-friendly technologies, IT friendly technologies, that give both the ease of use and simplicity that mobile users need.

For example, our Mobile Connect App acts both as a VPN client and also a policy-enforced network access control app client, so that you have that simple one click access into the corporate data center that is secured by encrypted SSL VPN, with our Secure Remote Access appliances.

You also have the support for IT to reduce complexity, because we make it very easy to create those policies, automatically enforce those policies, and implement network access control and security throughout the network.

Disclosure: Dell Software is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.

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