BYOD Is The Challenge Of The Decade

‘Bringing Your Own Device’ to work allows people the freedom to work with devices best suited to them. But, as Simon Wilcox writes, it requires informed network management.

Whilst instant internet access at home, work, in coffee shops or on trains is something many people now take for granted, for many network managers the growing popularity of smart phones, tablets and other Wi-Fi capable devices is causing a major headache.

It is not an issue for open Wi-Fi networks only, because the growth of ‘Bringing Your Own Device’ (BYOD), in locations ranging from schools through to blue chip companies, is showing no sign of slowing down.

BYOD growth

Many people presume the growth of BYOD is down to budget cuts in the current economic climate as it saves money if people use their own equipment, but this isn’t necessarily the case because BYOD requires additional infrastructure and a new set of policies and procedures which means it is not always the cheapest option.

If it was entirely about saving money the wave would be travelling much slower. Most PCs can last a long time before being replaced, and eking a few more years out of existing kit with another stick of RAM can save money and minimise the need for major changes in many organisations.

Instead, the drivers behind BYOD are the users. Their familiarity with their devices and the ubiquity of increasingly cheap smartphones and laptops grow the trend.

The main problem with BYOD is that mobile devices offer many of the same old fashioned threat vectors that we’ve been fighting for years.  The speed with which new malware is being released now exceeds the rate that legitimate software is produced meaning there are millions of devices out there containing spyware, adware, worms and any other assortment of malicious software.

Often the owners of these devices have no idea this software is there and even with up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware software, it will not protect against the very latest threats that came out that morning – sometimes called ‘zero-day threats’.

Consequently, the mindset amongst many network managers and organisations is that there will always be a level of malware until someone comes up with a better vehicle for internet crime.

Whilst it may be very difficult for network managers to keep infected devices off their network, they can ensure that malware cannot do any damage or infect any other devices.

Defending the network

This means having an adequate protection system in place that effectively ring-fences infected devices.  In addition, appropriate policies must be introduced to control how the system works because presently there is no standard philosophy amongst most network managers to contain the growing problem.

Many operate on a piecemeal basis where each issue is addressed as it arises.  Often the issue comes down to whether or not the person hears ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when asking whether they can connect their own device.

In many cases the successful deployment of BYOD has as much to do with the management of it as the technology.  From the outset it is important to involve the management of an organisation from an early stage and also look at it from legal and financial perspectives whilst also considering the risks to the business.

Only then can an informed decision be made about whether an organisation is ready to embrace BYOD and allow the creation of an environment where users have the freedom to use the tools and devices that are best suited to them and their needs.

Simon Wilcox is the Head of Marketing Operations at Smoothwall.