There’s a lot of talk around now about the trend of people bringing in their own laptops and tablets and other devices to access data and do their jobs. While most of you (including me) call this Bring Your Own Device (BYoD), I’ve been hearing a lot of talk recently about a different aspect of controlling mobile devices. Many of my customers have been asking me about Mobile Device Management (MDM). MDM is getting mixed into a lot of conversations about controlling the BYoD explosion.
Mobile Device Management (MDM) refers to the process of controlling the capabilities of a device via a centralized control point, whether it be in the cloud or on premises. MDM can restrict functions of a device, such as the camera or the ability to install applications. It can also restrict which data can be downloaded and saved onto a device. MDM also allows device managers to remotely lock the device in the event that it is lost or even remotely wipe the device should recovery be impossible. Vendors are now pushing MDM is a big component of their mobility offerings. Every week, it seems like some new vendor is pushing their MDM offering, whether it be a managed service software company, a wireless access point vendor, or even a dedicated MDM provider. MDM is being pushed as the solution to all your mobility pain points. There’s one issue though.
MDM is a very intrusive solution for mobile devices. A good analogy might be the rules you have for your kids at home. There are many things they are and aren’t allowed to do. If they break the rules, there are consequences and possible punishments. Your kids have to follow your rules if they live under your roof. Such is the way for MDM as well. Most MDM vendors that I’ve spoken to in the last three months take varying degrees of intrusion to the devices. One Windows Mobile provider started their deployment process with a total device wipe before loading an approved image onto the mobile device. Others require you to trust specific certificates or enroll in special services. If you run Apple’s iOS and designate the device as a managed device in iOS 6 to get access to certain new features like the global proxy setting, you’ll end up having a wiped device before you can manage it. Services like MobileIron can even give administrators the ability to read any information on the device, regardless of whether it’s personal or not.
That level of integration into a device is just too much for many people bringing their personal devices into a work environment. They just want to be able to check their email from their phone. They don’t want a sneaky admin reading their text messages or even wiping their entire phone via a misconfigured policy setting or a mistaken device loss. Could you image losing all your pictures or your bank account info because Exchange had a hiccup? And what about pushing MDM polices down to disable your camera due to company policy or disable your ability to make in-app purchases from your app repository of choice? How about setting a global proxy server so you are restricted from browsing questionable material from the comfort of your own home? If you’re like me, any of those choices make me cringe a little.
That’s why BYoD polices are important. They function more like having your neighbor’s children over at your house. While you may have rules for your children, the neighbor’s kids are just vistors. You can’t really punish them like you’d punish your own kids. Instead, you make what rules you can to prevent them from doing things they aren’t supposed to do. In many cases, you can send the neighbor’s kids to a room with your own kids to limit the damage they can cause. This is very much in line with the way we treat devices with BYoD settings. We try to authenticate users to ensure they are supposed to be accessing data on our network. We place data behind access lists that try to determine location or device type. We use the network as the tool to limit access to data as opposed to intruding on the device.
Both BYoD and MDM are needed in a corporate environment to some degree. The key to figuring out which needs to be applied where can be boiled down to one easy question:
Who paid for your device?
If the user bought their device, you need to be exploring BYoD polices as your primary method of securing the network and enabling access. Unless you have a very clearly defined policy in place for device access, you can’t just assume you have the right to disable half a user’s device functions and then wipe it whenever you feel the need. Instead, you need to focus your efforts on setting up rules that they should follow and containing their access to your data with access lists and user authentication. On the other hand, if the company paid for your tablet then MDM is the likely solution in mind. Since the device belongs to the corporation, they are will within their rights to do what they would like with it. Use it just like you would a corporate laptop or an issued Blackberry instead of a personal iPhone. Don’t be shocked if it gets wiped or random features get turned off due to company policy.
When it’s time to decide how best to manage your devices, make sure to pull out all those old credit card receipts. If you want to enable MDM on all your corporate phones and tablets, be sure to check out http://enterpriseios.com/ for a list of all the features supported in a given MDM provider for both iOS and other OSes like Android or Blackberry. If you didn’t get the bill for that tablet, then you probably want to get in touch with your wireless or network vendor to start exploring the options available for things like 802.1X authentication or captive portal access. In particular, I like some of the solutions available from Aerohive and Aruba’s ClearPass. You’re going to want both MDM and BYoD policies in your environment to be sure your devices are as useful as possible while still being safe and protecting your network. Just remember to back it all up with a very clear, detailed written use policy to ensure there aren’t any legal ramifications down the road from a wiped device or a lost phone causing a network penetration. That’s one bill you can do without.