The Cloud and Security

Being a computing professional has its perks and its drawbacks.  The perks include getting to hear about and try new technologies before many others do.  The drawbacks include being inundated with information and opinions by vendors in hopes they can steer your buying decisions.  ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) is the current hot topic.  Most anyone who runs a business must find some way to deal with the fact that their employees will likely want to use their own tablets and smartphones for business purposes.  This can help a business save money on hardware costs and help their employees be more efficient.  However, BYOD can also cause headaches since the employer wants to secure a device they don’t own.

Let’s talk about the current challenges of BYOD and some new thinking that is making some leeway that could change the landscape.  BYOD by its definition calls for a device to be used for both business and personal use.  In most instances, business data is sensitive information which companies do not want to fall into the wrong hands.  Therefore, companies want that data encrypted and in the event the device falls into the wrong hands, they want the data destroyed.  The problem is telling the difference between what is personal data and what is business data.  Most of the tablets and smartphones don’t provide a way to delineate between the two.  Any destruction command will safely remove all the business data from the device, but will also destroy all of the employee’s family pictures, home videos, and reunion emails.  Not good!  Understandably, some employees are not so excited about letting their employers manage their devices.

One idea being bandied about is that of containerization.  Containerization is the partitioning of the device into two segments . . one for business use and one for personal use.  The end users must toggle back and forth between the segments depending upon what they plan to do.  In theory, this is a great idea since management can now target data it wants to protect.  However, in practice, containerization leaves much to be desired.  There is no way to ensure that the end user actually toggles the device when needed.  I’m sure many of you have created documents on your personal computer and emailed them to your business account and vice versa.  Simply putting a toggle in place does not force people to abandon this convenient practice.  In addition, containerization does not provide a way to load multiple instances of the same applications on to a device so if the end user wants to work with Outlook, Excel, and Word for personal use, those apps cannot be a part of the business side.  This forces solution providers and businesses to create their own scaled-down versions of the most popular email, spreadsheet, and word processing programs so they don’t trample the apps already on the device.  These applications are usually feature-starved and require a learning curve for end users.  Productivity takes a big hit in favor of security.

A new idea to solve the BYOD problem has developed out of the solutions to some other problems.  Microsoft Office applications are prevalent in almost every business environment, but are not available on most smartphones and tablets due to licensing agreements.  What if these applications didn’t reside on the device, but instead were accessed from a server in the cloud?  The ‘cloud’ refers to a place the user can always access as long as they have an internet connection.  Some companies are offering this capability to their customers to provide access to the needed applications, but they have stumbled upon a security solution along the way.  If a company can ensure that business-related applications and data remain in the cloud, then there would never be a need to destroy data on the device itself.  Security is achieved as soon as access to company servers is removed from the device.  This ‘cutting of the cord’ can happen quickly and easily.  The end user’s data is untouched, but whoever has the device can no longer access any business-related data.  While there may be some minor holes in this solution, it is easy to implement and maintain for even the smallest IT department.

I think containerization is too flawed to have much of a future so look for the cloud to help solve many of the BYOD problems on the horizon.