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Striking the ideal BYOD balance

September 06, 2013

Few IT trends have received more attention and generated more excitement in recent years than bring your own device (BYOD). BYOD, in which employees are permitted to use their personal smartphones and tablets for work-related purposes, is popular among both workers and businesses. The former are in favor of this strategy because they prefer their own devices over corporate-issued options, and because it grants them a much higher degree of flexibility when conducting their work. Companies share their workers' appreciation for BYOD's flexibility, but are even more enthusiastic about the strategy's productivity gains and the fact that it encourages greater employee retention rates.

Yet not every business has embraced BYOD, and there are legitimate reasons for these delays. Most notably, BYOD carries a number of serious security risks which, if not addressed, can cause major problems for affected organizations.

However, these risks are not sufficient to justify disregarding BYOD altogether. The strategy is simply too valuable to ignore. Instead, business leaders need to work with IT support staff to find the right balance between security and worker autonomy in their BYOD environments.

Security needed
The need for high-quality security when it comes to BYOD is fairly obvious. In such environments, employees will inevitably access, send and receive sensitive corporate and client data which, if it falls into the wrong hands, can potentially cause severe problems for those affected. Countless businesses have suffered lost revenue, tarnished reputations and heavy fines as the result of data security failings.

Security threats in this area can take a number of forms. In addition to viruses and malware, other risks include spear phishing efforts and watering hole attacks. Without robust security measures, personal devices may fall victim to any of these threats, leading to a data breach.

Autonomy issues
On the other hand, business leaders also need to have a healthy respect for individual workers' privacy when it comes to imposing security measures in BYOD environments. Employees tend to be understandably protective of their personal devices, an issue which is not relevant when it comes to corporate-issued devices. They will resent any IT efforts that they perceive as violating their privacy.

If this happens, then businesses will undermine one of the key benefits of permitting BYOD in the first place: the higher job satisfaction rates, which lead to greater worker retention.

IT solutions
The trick to threading this needle is implementing security strategies which are effective, yet do not intrude too greatly upon workers' privacy.

IT support staff can play an invaluable role in guiding and implementing such solutions. Specifically, they should serve as something of an intermediary between business leaders and the actual employees themselves. Too often, business leaders act in a somewhat dictatorial fashion, mandating security efforts without concern for the actual employee experience. On the reverse end, employees may be tempted to disregard BYOD security measures entirely if they feel ignored by their superiors and do not appreciate the importance of data protection in these environments.

So what kinds of security efforts should IT support staff implement? First and foremost, every device that accesses the corporate network should have anti-malware and antivirus safeguards installed. These can protect employee devices without breaching users' autonomy.

Additionally, devices should feature remote wiping software. One of the most common causes of data breaches in BYOD environments is lost or stolen devices which, if they contain sensitive information, can then be accessed by whoever has gained possession. With the ability to remotely wipe a device's hard drive in the event that this occurs, IT departments can add a significant layer of security to their BYOD strategies.

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