Bring Your Own Device: Security vs Simplicity 

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Bring Your Own Device (short-form BYOD), is a highly popular device plan at many businesses and organizations that allows employees to utilize their personal devices instead of having to use a designated work device - whether it be a phone or a computer. Some businesses even take BYOD to the next level and offer employees a device budget which they can use to purchase a device of their choosing. Large companies such as IBM and Colgate have implemented BYOD device policies, it may be time for your business to do the same.

The main disadvantage of BYOD is that it can be less secure when compared to a closed device plan that can be entirely controlled by a business’s IT department. BYOD also has a much higher chance of employees mixing business and personal data, and potentially leaking data in that way. This article will focus on finding that equilibrium between security and simplicity and talk about which businesses are good environments for a BYOD plan and which businesses should stay towards a locked device plan.

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BYOD Positives: Simplicity and Increased Productivity

The largest reason to consider a BYOD plan is the implicit simplicity that comes with it. Employees are responsible for selecting the hardware that they want to use, and as such they are much more likely to have a reasonable understanding of that hardware.

For example, employees that own and use an iPhone every day for personal use will likely prefer to use an iPhone for work instead of an Android or Blackberry device. By allowing those employees to use an iPhone instead of handing them a Blackberry, a company is able to piggyback off of the user’s existing technical knowledge and can save hours or days training them.

This simplicity can be carried forward to increase employee productivity. When an employee encounters a task that requires additional technical knowledge, they may already have that knowledge if they are using a device that they use every day at home. If a user needs to perform a task on their desktop, a user familiar with the Windows operating system most likely will not know how to perform that task when in the Mac ecosystem (and vice versa).

If a user is operating a device they are familiar with they can perform the task instantly, without having to spend 15-30 min looking up to perform said task. Multiply this 15-30 min time saving out over hundreds of tasks over the months/years of operations, and productivity increases drastically.

BYOD Negatives: Fragmentation and Security

However, the benefits of added simplicity and productivity of BYOD can be outweighed by the plethora of different device setups introducing fragmentation and the mix of work and play opening up security holes.

If a business relies on simple collaboration between employees it may be a problem if one employee is using a Windows based computer and other is using a Mac. Those two devices can interact seamlessly within certain applications (such as Microsoft Office) but many other applications do not have cross-platform compatibility.

Beyond this, if an employee uses the same device for both work and play, data security issues will arise. In a BYOD set up, a work account that has sensitive data should only be logged into in times of necessity. If an employee is using the account for personal use the probability of the machine getting injected with malware and leaking private data is much higher.

How to Combat the Fragmentation and Security Flaws of BYOD

Both fragmentation and the implicit security risks of BYOD can be evened out quite easily by implementing a few simple rules:

Reduce fragmentation by putting a limit on the different ecosystems of devices that employees can purchase. Limit computers to a single desktop operating system if desktop app compatibility is essential for employees. For mobile devices, restrict to devices that can run an updated version of all of the apps that your business uses, such as email and messaging apps.

Reduce Security Risks by always separating personal and business data as much as possible. At the absolute minimum, separate user accounts should be used for work and personal data. A better approach is to partition the hard drive of the device and have a designated operating system installation for work and a designated one for personal. Ensure that each of the desktop environments is visually different in order to avoid confusion about which one is logged in (use a different wallpaper and/or theme for work and personal).

Additional Reading

Packetworks has additional resources available to learn more about data security and BYOD. Read below:

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