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Consumer tech pollutes enterprise IT

Can Cisco hold back the smartphone flood?

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People who work for big companies are consistently ignoring the security policies of their employers to use banned social networking apps and their own phones and computers at work.

This is the headline finding of a poll of 500 IT security professionals conducted by Cisco. Some 68 per cent of the respondents know their employees use unsupported social networking applications.

Workers are using smartphones, netbooks and now tablets, and want to access corporate networks using these devices and not necessarily a business-provided and secured Blackberry, notebook or desktop.

They are also using social networking sites with the potential for corporate data leakage.

Enterprises may think that banning the use of these things might be viable, but Cisco's research gives pause for thought: 71 per cent of the survey respondents said overly strict security policies have a negative impact on hiring and retaining employees under age 30.

So what is to be done? If you can't stop people using their own smartphones on the one hand and engaging in social networking on the other, then corporate IT has to adapt. Cisco thinks it has the answer, by extending enterprise-class security and policy to all devices, wherever they may roam.

The company is bulking up bulking up its mobile internet device access software as well as working with security and data loss prevention vendors.

VPN for smartphones

Cisco has added more partners to the Secure Borderless Network Systems initiative and aims to build on its smartphone VPN product, AnyConnect Secure Mobility Virtual Private Network (VPN) product. This aims to provide an always-on VPN experience on laptops and smartphones. As people with these devices travel to different locations the AnyConnect client software in their device is said to automatically select the best network access point and use the most appropriate tunneling protocol.

AnyConnect uses the Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS) protocol and is the first VPN product to do so. DTLS helps provide an optimised connection for latency-sensitive traffic, such as voice over IP (VoIP) and TCP-based application access, Cisco says.

AnyConnect supports various Windows, Linux and Mac OS X devices plus Windows Mobile, but there is no explicit support yet for the iPhone or Android phones. However, Cisco is partnering with HTC, Nokia, Palm and Samsung to ensure interoperability with its AnyConnect client software.

Where's Apple in all this?

Cisco is also aiming to better protect the corporate network and the data on notebooks, smartphones, and removable media in case of loss or theft, using its own and third-party technology combined in templates or validated designs.

Third-parties include EMC's RSA, Lumension and Credant Technologies. Another partnership effort is underway to get better management of the Secure Borderless Network Systems environment through integrated security management with parties such as RSA, ArcSight and others.

With multiplying end-point clients and social networking apps Cisco is putting out an integrated security story, decrying the use of "point solutions".

But if employees buy their own smartphones why would they choose ones with Cisco's AnyConnect client software loaded on them, if indeed any do. What's more likely to happen is that the software is available for download rather than being pre-installed. That means businesses will have to have a list of approved smartphones, tablets, etc, and make it easy to get the client software.

Will they ban corporate access without the software? Would that be an "overly strict security policy"? Probably not, but the rate at which smartphones and devices are multiplying means that Cisco has the usual agent software provider problem; simply keeping up with device proliferation. Where's AnyConnect for the iPad?

So Reg readers, are your users ambushing the corporate IT department with banned or unnapproved devices and software? Are you trying to hold back the flood - or is your company joining the new punk era of IT? Are you ready to kill the CIO and harness consumer tech power?

Let us know, in comments below. ®

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