Michael Finneran
Michael F. Finneran, is President of dBrn Associates, Inc., a full service advisory firm specializing in wireless and mobility; services...
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Michael Finneran | February 18, 2016 |


Getting Serious About Mobile Security

Getting Serious About Mobile Security Technologies like biometric authentication and DLP are making enterprise mobility more secure. Are mobile UC and mobile-first team collaboration apps keeping pace?

Technologies like biometric authentication and DLP are making enterprise mobility more secure. Are mobile UC and mobile-first team collaboration apps keeping pace?

One of my longtime favorite observations about UC and mobility is that everyone in the UC space talks about mobility, but nobody in the mobile business talks about UC. The focus there instead is on security, which happens to be an area of ongoing concern among those of us watching activities around mobile UC and the rise of mobile-first team collaboration apps.

It might seem that the mobile security story broke onto the scene with the advent of BYOD and the trend of allowing personally owned devices to access corporate systems. This trend, however, only intensified what was already a serious information security concern. On top of traditional worries, an organization's attack surface increased exponentially as it rolled out BYOD and had corporate data residing on so many easy to lose or steal devices. Further, as BYOD took off, the only platform capable of delivering enterprise-grade security was BlackBerry, and no one was bringing his or her own BlackBerry.

Fortunately, the picture has improved dramatically since C-Level execs first showed up at IT's door looking to hook up their iPhones to the Exchange server. A number of important developments have helped improve our overall ability to secure sensitive information on or accessible through mobile devices, but many organizations still seem to feel that denialis an adequate security strategy.

Biometrics Bonanza
portable One of the single biggest boosts for mobile security has been the move to the cloud. If no sensitive data resides on the device, our job shifts to protecting access to that cloud-based data store and ensuring that information is not forwarded to places we don't want it to go. Securing that access is getting easier as vendors adopt biometric authentication -- one example being Apple with Touch ID -- to apps.

Many B2C apps, particularly those from the financial services community, have adopted biometric authentication, and in Windows 10 Mobile, Microsoft will be offering a whole range of biometric options through its Hello function. Alphabet is reportedly looking at the possibility of using the Android authentication mechanism to authenticate the user on nearby computers; Microsoft is including a similar capability in Windows 10 mobile.

However, if sensitive data is device-resident, on-device encryption and strong password (or biometric) authentication should be required elements. Encryption with adequate performance requires a crypto chip, essentially a hardware device to do the encryption, or performance will slow to a crawl. Crypto chips are standard on all current iPhones, Samsung Android phones, Microsoft Lumias and the BlackBerry Priv, but you won't find them on many lower-end Android devices.

Containerized Data
Encryption is just one element in protecting sensitive information on mobile devices. Another big technology today is mobile data loss prevention (DLP), which can perform such functions as ensuring that corporate information is not purposely forwarded to insecure locations (e.g. personal email or cloud storage). One of the biggest developments for mobile DLP has come in mobile device management-enterprise mobility management (MDM/EMM) systems in the way of secure containers. The container is a separate, encrypted region on the phone for storage of enterprise data and apps; the user has to sign on to the container to access those apps.

The original concept was simply to provide a secure container from which IT could remotely wipe data and apps should an employee lose a device or leave the company. Personal data could be left untouched. Now the secure container has become a key element in DLP.

The container can keep track of the data it controls, and IT can enforce DLP policies like prohibiting printing or copy and paste, and it can also prevent forwarding data to personal email or personal cloud storage. In Windows 10 Mobile, Microsoft will be taking this a step further with a new capability called Enterprise Data Protection (EDP). EDP, slated for delivery later this year, will allow IT to define apps as corporate (i.e., trusted) versus personal.

In the EDP solution, any data downloaded to a trusted app is automatically encrypted, and IT can define DLP policies. If a user attempts to violate a usage policy (e.g. forward trusted data to a personal email account) EDP can be set to prohibit the action or warn the user that he or she is about to violate a usage policy. If the user chooses to proceed, EDP creates an auditable trail. With EDP, the result is a comprehensive DLP solution, but with a vastly improved user experience as the user does not have to log in to a secure container.

A significant percentage of organizations have implemented MDM/EMM systems, but many still look to manage mobile devices with the rudimentary capabilities in Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). EAS will allow you to enforce rudimentary policies like passwords, mandatory encryption, and minimum password strength. However, the remote wipe function erases the entire device and not just the corporate data (i.e. "There go the baby pictures"). That can be a major issue with employee-owned devices and is flat out illegal in some countries.

While mobile security tools are improving, organizations are tasked with developing mobile security plans and policies that ensure adequate protections are in place. That starts with writing a comprehensive mobile policy and ensuring that all users, regardless of whether they are using company-provided or personal (i.e. BYOD) devices, have read and understand it. In some cases, policies for corporate-owned and BYOD devices are the same, and in others they are markedly different.

What we aren't hearing much about is where the various mobile UC and team collaboration clients fit in with regard to all of this. By all accounts, they don't store data on the device, but DLP is still a concern. Are they compatible with the secure container technology so that IT can enforce DLP policies? Have they been adapted so that we can use biometric authentication? What differences would we see if they were managed by EAS rather than an MDM/EMM platform?

If you're going to be taken seriously in the mobile space, this is the type of stuff customers need to know. I plan to be doing lots of research on the security protections in mobile UC and mobile-first collaboration apps next month while I'm at Enterprise Connect, and I'll keep you posted.

Speaking of Enterprise Connect, which will take place March 7 to 10 in Orlando, Fla., I'll also be heading up the Mobility track -- and I'd love to see you there. If you haven't yet signed up, you have two days to register and save $200 off the early bird rate -- deadline just extended. Register here by Friday, Feb. 19, using the code NJPOST to save an additional $200 off the early bird rate. This discount code, which is valid for Entire Event and Tue-Thu Conference passes, represents a total savings of $700 off the onsite price. As an added bonus, you can get even bigger savings when you register three or more attendees from your company.

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