Security Manager's Journal: Time for a mobile-security upgrade

I've been looking into updating my mobile device security. Smartphones and tablets have been flooding into my company faster than I anticipated, eating up all my available licenses. That means I need to either reinvest in my current product or switch to something new.

I wrote about my experience in deciding on a mobile-device security product a couple of years ago. A lot has changed since then. The product I selected was, at the time, the best technology available: in the leading quadrant of the Gartner analysis of the mobile-device protection market. The security method it employs is called "containerization," which basically means that all corporate data is contained within the security application instead of inside the native email, contacts and calendar apps. That's great for security, but it's not so popular with my users, whose reactions have ranged from disgruntled tolerance to outright hostility. Nobody likes it except me.

And that being the case, I like it less than I did. I believe security can (and should) make people's lives easier, if at all possible. And in the case of mobile security, it is possible. Several new mobile-device management products have emerged over the last year or two. Most of them support the native applications that people know and love, which means they don't interfere with the user experience. That makes security more transparent -- in fact, it's practically invisible (after a one-time enrollment process). On top of that, the newer products cost a fraction of what I'm paying for my current deployment.

The world of mobile device security has moved on over the past couple of years to more of an overall remote management capability, of which security is just a part. Instead of buying security software for our mobile devices, we can focus instead on a device management platform that can enforce device policies like passwords and encryption and provide a selective remote-wipe capability for deprovisioning.

Another big change is the emergence of the cloud. The products I'm looking at now have cloud-based options (or software as a service, if you prefer), that simplify deployment. Instead of building servers, making them highly available and distributing them across my enterprise, I can get up and running within a day by leveraging the services available over the Internet. That gets me to my goal more quickly. I'm not sure how I feel about putting my data in someone else's hands, though. It's a difficult trade-off. On the one hand, there's good reason to retain control over my technologies. On the other hand, my practically non-existent staffing makes me feel the appeal of leaving the engineering, operation and maintenance of the service in the hands of the service provider.

Whether I decide to go on-premise or in the cloud, I'm definitely leaning toward the modern MDM approach. So, having confronted the prospect of a growing number of mobile devices in my security plan, I'm probably going to be able to improve the end-user experience and save the company money. That sounds like a win-win-win.

This week's journal is written by a real security manager, "J.F. Rice," whose name and employer have been disguised for obvious reasons. Contact him at jf.rice@engineer.com.

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