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Mobile security software keeps corporate data safe

A business needs defenses for all types of devices at the network level, as well as MDM applications to protect its assets from the risks associated with BYOD.

Mobile devices are not well supported by traditional endpoint management

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systems, but vendors are changing their mobile security software offerings. These management applications already support functions including application distribution, remote provisioning and configuring, firmware updates, software installation, and logging and reporting.

Mobile device management (MDM) applications also help enforce policies governing encryption, password enforcement, remote locking and wiping, app inventory control, and Secure Sockets Layer certificate management. These and other mobile security software features are available from MobileIron Inc., Symantec Corp., Good Technology Inc., AirWatch LLC and Tangoe Inc., among others. In addition, Tangoe and other vendors are trying to distinguish themselves by offering MDM through a Software as a Service model. MobileIron has app stores that allow businesses to host their own application distribution libraries.

More on mobile security software

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Mobile application security best practices: Leveraging MDM, MAM tools

Smartphone encryption, authentication ease mobile management

When evaluating such mobile security software, consider the types of devices supported and the range of functionality they provide. Remember to assess their reporting and alerting features as well. These can be especially important to support governance and compliance efforts.

MDM systems and mobile security software can work well with bring your own device (BYOD) security policies. Features such as screen locks, encryption, inactivity lockouts and remote wiping may be enough for some organizations, but they don’t address less obvious risks. Employees, for example, might download apps with user agreements granting the app vendor the right to copy all contact information from the device. You might want to blacklist such apps from devices that store company contact information.

Other tools for enhancing BYOD are probably already in place on your network. Users should be allowed to access the business network only when they use a virtual private network (VPN). This approach effectively makes a personal device a node on the company network. It's easy to imagine an employee connecting to the VPN, working on a project from his personal tablet, then shutting down business applications to surf the Web. If the employee forgot to disconnect from the VPN, his Web surfing traffic gets carried over the VPN. This could expose the enterprise network to malicious sites.

Website blacklisting and whitelisting can reduce the chance of an employee inadvertently downloading problematic content from known malicious sites. Blacklisting uses a database of known malicious sites and prevents users from accessing those sites. Whitelisting allows browsing only to trusted sites. MDM software is necessary to enforce security policies such as remote locking and app inventory control.

BYOD security is a growing necessity in many businesses and organizations. Policies should define mechanisms to protect data at rest on employee-owned devices, as well as data in motion to and from those devices. MDM apps can enforce many of these policies.

Don't lose sight of the fact that security is an organizational practice as well as a technical one. Include security awareness training. Many policies and procedures for company-owned devices and personally owned computers are relevant to personal devices. Tablets and smartphones are sufficiently different, however, and require specialized security polices to complement existing policies.

About the Author
Dan Sullivan has a master's degree in computer science, and is an author, systems architect and consultant with more than 20 years of IT experience. He has had engagements in advanced analytics, systems architecture, database design, enterprise security and business intelligence.

This was first published in August 2012

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