Opinion: Stopping the mobile madness
I love my iPad, but I hate what it represents.
My iPad is lightweight and easy to carry around, it boots up in less than a minute, its programs launch within seconds, and I can play cool games, watch movies or listen to music when I’m bored. On the downside, if I’m not mobile, I’d still rather use my desktop. Several applications that I use just don’t scale on the iPad, and I like a large screen and separate keyboard.
At issue: Employees can use iPads and other mobile devices to gain access to the corporate network.
Action plan: Find a way to enforce policies before it’s too late.
But those drawbacks are not what I hate. Before long, Apple will probably find a way to neutralize those deficiencies, as will the other companies that are coming out with their own tablets and other midsize mobile devices.
No, what I hate is that I can connect the iPad to the Internet, synchronize my mail with my company’s email servers and even link to my company’s internal network.
That last one isn’t exactly easy right now, but Apple and the other vendors will probably make it easier. Worse, my own CIO wants to make it easier. He wants to enable employees to access our network anywhere, anytime and from any mobile device so they can work more efficiently. That’s not something that I, the security manager, embrace.
Employees currently have three ways to connect mobile devices to our network. One is to use a proxy to synchronize the delivery of mail. Second, they can connect to our wireless access points, making their devices resources on our internal network. Third, they can establish a VPN session from outside our network. Before long, they will probably have a fourth option, simpler than all the rest, assuming that mobile devices start to come with Ethernet ports. Then they’ll be able to plug into any available port in the office.
The countervailing options, of course, are things such as Network Access Control, virtual LAN segmentation and firewalls. They can be used in concert to restrict access in some form or fashion, but they aren’t plug-and-play, and a deployment takes a lot of resources, plus change management. Our network isn’t there yet, and the fact that we’re a global company complicates matters.
This is where mobile device management comes into play.
To do MDM, you need to be able to detect every device that connects to the network and set (and enforce) policies that those devices must comply with. To do this effectively, you need to monitor all of the connection methods discussed above. For example, if you want to control employees’ ability to synchronize mail delivery via the ActiveSync proxy, then you have to put the MDM infrastructure in front of ActiveSync, intercepting all connections. Then, employees trying to synchronize with ActiveSync would first be forced to install the MDM client.
I have already instituted a mobile device security policy, which includes application restrictions, a device timeout, password protection, the ability to wipe the device, and an automatic wipe after six unsuccessful login attempts. Most of the leading MDM platforms allow selective wipe, meaning it’s possible to wipe only corporate data while leaving personal data intact. They also offer location tracking functionality.
Unfortunately, some mobile devices won’t support all of our policy features, so the policy includes an “employee responsibility” clause, requiring, for example, that departing employees remove corporate data from their devices.
As someone who has himself surrendered to the temptation to put his iPad on the corporate network, I know that other people will want to do the same. To keep ahead of them, I’ll be looking into the leading MDM vendors (both the standard on-premises offerings and software as a service), and soon I hope we’ll be able to deploy a proof of concept.