These days, we are more attached to our mobile devices than ever before. Portable machines such as laptops, tablets, e-readers, and a host of hybrids have sprung up in every household – the idea of even leaving the house without our smartphones now seems inconceivable. Given the prevalence of these gadgets, they have inevitably begun to pervade the workplace. Whether they are used in an official capacity or not, the majority of employees now bring their personal machines to work on a regular basis, prompting the emergence of a new networking term – Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD.
BYOD, in the simplest terms, is a corporate network that can be accessed by any device which may be brought into – or taken away from – a business. Far from being a guest network, BYOD implies full connectivity to company intranets, files, and other such secure items, with the intention of making your workforce far more mobile and flexible. Workers can go off-site and continue working anywhere, eliminating the need for employees to take other factors (such as childcare) into account.
As handy and innocuous as this may seem at first, it can potentially present a plethora of problems to network administrators. Managing the personal devices of every single employee in the business can be a nightmare – capacity alone can become a major factor, let alone the myriad security risks it introduces! Employees’ devices can contain all manner of software and content, and like it or not, they may take advantage of the network for their personal internet use rather than eat into their 3G allowance, and this could open up the network to virus attacks and malware.
Dave Gorton of networking experts Shield IT Solutions brings up some other associated risks:
“It’s important to remember that private company files and other such information is accessible via BYOD, and therefore quite vulnerable, so virus attack is far from the only threat that may rear its head. Human error has proven a dreaded foe time and time again, and as BYOD allows users to carry their devices with them wherever they may go, this exponentially increases the risk of them being stolen or left on the train. It’s not unrealistic to think that files could even be deleted or leaked maliciously by disgruntled employees.”
Fortunately, BYOD is flexible enough to provide numerous solutions to these concerns. As with any network, it is fairly straightforward to implement rules as to which sites can be accessed. Data encryption can also serve to avoid the risk of sensitive data being leaked. Mobile device management, or MDM, can also be installed on any device in order to ensure that it behaves appropriately, although users may object to having this installed on their personal devices! An alternative to this is to provide corporate devices to employees, which, while it will be easier to ensure that rules are abided by, can prove very costly.
The first step for any business is to undergo a complete review of their current IT and networking systems, says Dave Gorton:
“The decision of whether or not to implement BYOD can often come down to cost, especially for smaller businesses. We at Shield have visited a lot of companies for whom BYOD would just have been a lavish, non-essential commodity. Smaller business owners might want to consider a simpler alternative – VPN and remote access can offer just as much flexibility, and a guest network can give users the option to use their mobile devices at work. To all intents and purposes, these options can have a similar effect while not costing the Earth, so it’s crucial that these businesses have a full and professional IT networking review in order to properly weigh up their options.”