MT Expert: IT - Getting a grip on mobile

Mobile devices may be handy for flexible working, but they can be a menace if not managed properly.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010
According to research from analyst firm the Aberdeen Group, over the last 12 months the number of mobile platforms in the workplace has doubled. With the ever growing popularity of the latest smartphones - many of which now have the same capabilities as a desktop PC – today’s workforce is becoming increasingly mobile. This however is leading to a potential raft of new security concerns for businesses, ranging from mobile malware to the loss of confidential business information if a device is lost or stolen.

Recent research from Vanson Bourne found that 92% of businesses thought that the number of security threats they faced had increased as more employees started using mobile devices to work remotely and access corporate networks. Given that businesses have spent years getting their desktop PCs satisfactorily secure, it is vital they also start getting a grip on their mobile device management otherwise they risk undoing all their good work.

New devices, new threats
According to the Vanson Bourne research, social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook and, alarmingly, mobile p0rn are seen as the biggest security threats facing UK businesses and their mobile workers. Compounding the problem is that many employees use the same device for both personal and work use, which limits the visibility businesses have, making enforcing mobile usage policies a headache. Unsurprisingly, nearly two-thirds of businesses admitted that they found enforcing mobile usage polices a headache, while even more said that they would like better visibility of their employees’ mobile usage in order to better manage costs and improve mobile security.

One of the main problems is that the management of mobile devices is often left in the hands of the end user rather than with IT. So if software needs updating to make it more secure, the onus is on the employee to send the device to IT or update it themselves ‘online’. This often results in businesses having to manage many different devices running different software versions all of which offer differing levels of protection. Such inconsistent upgrade cycles can lead to increased mobile security problems. This may seem only a minor issue, but single security lapse could cost a business hundreds if not thousands of pounds.

Small steps, big results
All too often, the procurement of mobile devices is based on cost or even visual appeal in some cases, rather than ease of management.  In order to effectively manage security and performance concerns, IT should be involved right at the start when it comes to purchasing the businesses’ mobile devices.

By altering purchasing habits businesses can start getting a much better handle on mobile device management (MDM), and start to take advantage of the latest MDM technology, which offer features such ‘over the air’ updates, data encryption and remote data wiping. This can provide the business with far greater visibility and control over their mobile devices from provisioning right through to decommissioning. Considering the increasing amounts of personal and business data held on today’s devices, being able to decommission them in a more secure manner can give the business overall greater peace of mind. From a financial point of view, MDM can also start reducing the total cost of ownership per employee, which always looks good on the balance sheet.

Putting your foot down to stamp out security threats
The capabilities of smartphones and other mobile devices are only going continue to grow over time. Without an effective mobile device management strategy in place, businesses will incur increased support costs and risk losing the visibility and security they had created in the fixed desktop environment. Therefore, it is important that businesses take control now to ensure increased workforce mobility becomes an asset rather than a headache.

Alex Donnelly, portfolio manager, Damovo UK

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