Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies–or allowing employees to use personal laptops, tablets and smartphones for work-related tasks–benefits employers and users in compelling ways. Workers get to use the device they are most comfortable with, and employers reap increased productivity benefits.
But I have bad news if you think BYOD decreases help desk costs. It doesn’t.
"There are a lot of suggestions out there that BYOD reduces costs. In reality the costs are shifted to other areas.” — Richard English, Strategic Consulting Director for Avaya Professional Services.
While the trend diminishes costs for traditional service desk tasks such as asset management, businesses should increase spending for security. Sensitive corporate data is highly vulnerable to theft on employee-owned mobile devices. Here are four strategies help desk administrators should implement to protect your company against BYOD-related risks and common IT headaches.
1. Encrypt All Data
According to one study, 31 percent of corporate employees who use a laptop for work will connect to their company’s network through a public Wi-Fi connection, which is most likely unencrypted. No BYOD policy can fully prevent that from happening.
To curb this security risk, IT groups should distribute and manage Virtual Private Network (VPN) solutions for all mobile devices, says Michael Buckna, a unified communications engineer at voice-over-IP provider Enterprise Systems Group. These tools–such as those offered by Cisco Systems and Golden Frog–encrypt transmitted data regardless of where or how it is accessed through mobile devices.
Establishing guidelines for remote access is also critical. “This can a be a real challenge with varying operating systems–iOS, Android and so on. Help desks should create a set of standards for what they are going to support and allow access to, or they will end up having to backtrack,” Buckna says.
2. Have a Plan for Lost or Stolen Devices
Imagine one of your employees stops at a coffee shop over the weekend. They sit quietly tapping away at emails, until they get up for just a minute to grab a refill. In an instant someone swipes their device.
Brandon Hampton, a director for MOBI Wireless Management, describes stolen devices as a “worst case scenario.” Look what happened last month when one Howard University Hospital contractor’s laptop was stolen. The company ended up contacting more than 34,500 patients to let them know their medical information was inadvertently exposed.
Hampton says IT teams should have a specific action plan in their BYOD policy for dealing with this contingency. This should include such steps as changing email, Dropbox and other passwords if they were installed on the device. Also, BYOD-ers should agree to install remote wiping and locking tools. Hampton suggested using a mobile device management (MDM) solution.
3. Monitor and Control Network Use
Help service desk managers should also use MDM to keep a lookout for network bottlenecks and ensure compliance with BYOD policies.
Granting BYOD users network access on two or three devices is great for productivity, but this can also tax networks. Axios Systems Executive Vice President Markos Symeonides recommends IT teams integrate service desk software with an MDM that delivers real-time network use data. These systems track when a device signs in, what users access, and whether it’s configured with the appropriate security software.
“MDM populates the service desk product, but the service desk is responsible for actually making sense of all that information and acting on it,” Symeonides says.
Another option is a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution, such as Xangati's, which equips IT teams with tools for monitoring network, server and storage performance. It identifies a device causing a slowdown and automatically notifies an agent. Depending on the issue, they can then triage the issue to the appropriate response team.
4. Install Anti-malware/virus Infrastructure and Educate Users
Malware creation hit record highs last year with a reported 26 million new strains in circulation. This malicious software can wreak havoc on your company’s security if an infected smartphone, tablet or laptop is connected to your company’s network or email.
To combat these threats, IT teams should equip devices with anti-virus and anti-malware systems. These functions are sometimes wrapped into VPN or MDM software. Others, such as the Junos Pulse Mobile Security Suite or ThreatMetrix, can be installed separately to fight exposure to viruses, malware and spammers.
Buckna recommended help desks provide ongoing information on how to identify phishing techniques, poisonous apps and other virus-spreading tactics. IT should also regularly distribute information about widespread malware and virus outbreaks, such as the NotCompatible predatory app that targeted Android users earlier this month.
The New Help Desk Investment
All of these strategies add up to a significant shift in help desk operations and spending. The cost can seem daunting, but the decision now isn’t whether to make the investment but rather how much risk you are willing to take by doing nothing.
What other suggestions do you have for minimizing the impact of the security risks inherent in BYOD environments? Please leave your thoughts below in the comments section.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Luz.