Security Bytes

Apr 3 2012   5:57PM GMT

Mobile protection: Do you need mobile device management software?

Robert Westervelt Robert Westervelt Profile: Robert Westervelt


ORLANDO – If you’re currently evaluating mobile device management software you may want to stop and instead conduct a thorough assessment to figure out your exact requirements before making that investment. In fact, two security experts at the 2012 InfoSec World Conference and Expo here in Orlando say some enterprises may not have an immediate need to buy a mobile device management (MDM) platform. In-house capabilities, such as Microsoft Exchange Active Sync (EAS), provide a foundation for mobile device protection and can already use certain Apple iOS and Google Android device security features.

There’s a trade-off, explained Lisa Phifer, owner and consultant of Core Competence Inc. EAS is severely limited in the control it provides to employee-owned devices. If all the organization needs is to enforce password and PIN length and have remote wipe capabilities for iOS devices, it works. Android capabilities are even more restricted, Phifer said. Depending on the Android firmware version and the carrier limitations placed on devices, companies may have the ability to use EAS for remote wipe, resetting the device to the factory default condition and enforcing the use of a device password.

During a session here in Orlando, Phifer and Diana Kelley, a consultant with Security Curve, demonstrated mobile device platforms from AirWatch and Fiberlink. The two platforms are one of dozens of mobile device management vendors vying for the attention of enterprises looking to gain visibility and control – some semblance of security to the whole bring your own device (BYOD) movement.

Kelley said early adopters of MDM platforms sometimes are convinced to buy and deploy it, but then suddenly realize they don’t know how to manage the tool or exactly what they want to get out of it. These enterprises sometimes lack any formal mobile device security policies or sometimes they’re mismatched, she said. Senior-level executives have few restrictions on their devices, while sales staff and other employees are given device limitations. Ultimately, an attacker will find a weakness, she said.

So what exactly are the benefits of an MDM platform? MDM tools can help bring those policy mismatches in line by managing what users require the most restrictions based on their role. They provide a common management umbrella for device diversity; they typically can embed additional security capabilities onto the device such as a third-party VPN, antimalware or a secure data container. They can also help monitor and enforce security policies – but those policies have to be well defined and communicated to employees, Kelley said. Let people know what the penalty is for violating that policy.

MDM platforms can also create a framework for the enterprise to provide troubleshoot, support and expense management capabilities. Self-service portals controlled by the enterprise enable employees to use certain trusted apps.

I think Phifer summed up mobile security well: It’s about managing the corporate assets on the device, not necessarily the device itself.

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