Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/06/20/mobile_clinic/
Mobile Clinic: How do you make mobile data secure?
Keeping it safe
Mobile Clinic We asked and you responded in kind with the key issues you're facing with mobilising your workforce. Below, we've got three industry experts - all of whom have racked up more years in the mobile world than most of us have had hot dinners - who are trying to give you some pointers on nailing this stuff.
We'll be tackling another handful of your questions over the coming weeks. Hopefully you'll find it all useful. But as ever feel free to chip in your viewpoints below.
Question 1: With so much data sitting out on mobile devices across the organisation how we do deal with the security and integrity of this data?
Dale Vile, Research Director, Freeform Dynamics Ltd
The question how to protect the security of information held on mobile devices is a very interesting one, and we hear it come up all the time in our research and consulting activities.
The irony is, however, that while people are stressing themselves over the need to secure resident data on handhelds, they are often turning a blind eye to a huge vulnerability that already exists. I am talking here about the fact that users have been running around for a decade with sensitive and private business information on a device that it would take an averagely competent technician a matter of minutes to extract all the data from – the laptop/notebook PC.
I mention this not because I expect organisations to deal with the notebook PC data vulnerability problem in a hurry from a technical point of view (even though solutions for policy management, lock-down and local data encryption are becoming more capable and practical), or because poor notebook security is an excuse to ignore the problem on handhelds.
The point is that it is important to keep things in perspective and think about the mobile security problem a bit more holistically. And if you look at it in terms of risk mitigation, then an important starting point for any mobile security planning or review exercise is gaining an understanding of the nature of the risks we are trying to manage.
As soon as you start to do this, the "user factor" comes into sharp focus and you begin to realise that one of the biggest sources of risk with regard to mobile data security is human behaviour. Whether due to poor attitude or ignorance (rarely malice), users by default will do all kinds of "stupid" things that create much bigger security holes than the theoretical vulnerabilities at a technology level that IT departments spend so much time worrying about.
This is something we explored in a recent research study, during which we found a high degree of correlation between organisations that instruct their users on security matters and the degree to which they trust the workforce to behave responsibly and appropriately. Put simply, there is very clear evidence that mobile security risks can be reduced significantly through end user training.
Pulling all this together, the golden rule when tackling any aspect of mobile security is, therefore, not to consider it in isolation – context is very important to both understand and deal with the risks. But can we net this out to some general advice? Well, rather than me saying it, I would like to finish with a quotation from a Reg reader who summed it up pretty well during one of our online workshop sessions a while back:
But what are the options for managing [mobile security]?
- Make good decisions in the first place – infrastructure, devices and deployment
- Keep things centralised - you gotta be able to control things
- Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt
- Hammer home the implications and make it clear where accountability lies
For more discussion on this whole area, I encourage you to download the Secure Mobile Working report available in the Reg research library here.
Michael Lawrence, Head of Enablers, Orange Business Services UK
Today's fiercely-competitive global landscape leaves organisations facing unprecedented pressure to equip their workforces with devices that enable productive mobile working.
However, increasing ubiquity of mobile technology has also led to a rising concern for the security of business-critical data. Balancing the end-user benefits of flexible working with the need for control of sensitive information remains essential. By embracing the latest mobile security and device management technologies, while also balancing this with proactive education of end-users, organisations can ensure they reap the benefits of flexible working while also minimising the attendant risks.
The latest enterprise mobility solutions, including RIM's BlackBerry service and Microsoft's Exchange Server-based systems, offer a number of sophisticated security features designed to allay mobile security fears.
This is not to say, however, that smaller organisations, unable to deploy these enterprise-grade solutions will automatically face greater risks than their larger rivals. On the contrary, a number of simple steps exist to help companies of all sizes minimise the risk of data theft through efficient use of technology.
These include monitoring networks regularly for "rogue" access points and controlling use of removable data devices such as memory cards, USB sticks, and portable hard drives. Other effective tactics include enforcing a system of access passwords/PINs; employing an automated back-up facility to safeguard against data loss; deploying firewalls and mobile antivirus solutions to protect against malicious attacks; and remotely locking/wiping any lost or stolen devices.
Clearly, a range of technology steps therefore exist to help organisations of all sizes manage the security risks presented by increasing mobile working. However, it is also essential that companies adopt a positive approach to this issue – one which encourages awareness and proactivity throughout the workforce.
Again, Orange recommends a series of simple yet effective steps here. Companies should establish sensible policies that marry business needs to IT contingency plans as closely as possible. Here, it is important to engage openly with end-users rather than simply prescribe draconian rules.
An element of device choice will help ensure buy-in from users, while internal "amnesties" on the use of unauthorised personal handsets will be received more warmly than outright bans. Active communication with partners and suppliers will also be rewarded, allowing companies to take advantage of hosted security services from their mobile operator, for example.
Staff training is an essential way to encourage best-practice, while close support will help to ensure this advice is adhered to in practice.
Finally, as with any law, mobile security policies must have consequences to be truly effective, and there are times when rules must be enforced. Again, internal education will ensure that end-users are aware of these penalties in advance.
In conclusion, while mobile working does heighten potential security risks, these can be effectively minimised through sensible IT management practices. It is important that mobile operators take the lead here. Technology-based solutions will undoubtedly play their part, but in order to be truly effective, these must be balanced by a proactive, policy-based approach.
Ed Moore, OpenWeb Product Manager, Openwave Europe
Mobile data security is a many-headed Hydra; with a variety of potential issues to be addressed under the single banner. Mobile also covers a variety of potential access devices, from laptops down to phones and even internet cafes, all of which have to be addressed.
Securing data on laptops and phones
Any device with more than just a contact list and browser should have security measures mandated. For non-sensitive work a password and rotation policy is sufficient, but for personal data records or sensitive business data then data encryption technology must be used as well.
Tracking services should also be considered; these will trace the device after being stolen so that remote deletion can be triggered or the unit retrieved.
Finally, if a mobile is being used for collecting or generating primary data (as opposed to copying data from a centralised system) synchronisation/centralised backup software can be used too. This should minimise the possibility that valuable data can be lost through theft or accident.
Protection against attack
Viruses, Trojans and Phishing attacks can all attack mobile devices and laptops or smartphones can be especially sensitive to these, as they can be taken outside of your corporate network, which may provide a degree of security at the network edge.
All devices should have anti-virus protection and ideally be configured to use a corporate (but external) security proxy for general internet access. This may not be possible in all cases, but will help give the most complete protection. The problem can be resolved in an alternative manner; by specifying standard phones for data access; with a closed platform it is much more difficult to suffer a meaningful attack.
Securing corporate communications
Always encrypt the traffic to a corporate network, SSL or IPSec encryption is common to all mobiles these days and there's no excuse not to make this a policy. Encryption can be used at a single application level or to secure the whole data pipe, but any application with automated log-on needs to be watched particularly carefully. Apply passwords and ensure these are used when establishing a connection, otherwise anyone can quickly gain access. A two-factor authentication service may be needed for added protection.
Stealing corporate secrets
There's always the potential for a staff member to use a mobile device to transport company secrets away from the office. Laptops have enormous storage capacity these days and usually CD burners and Wi-Fi connections too, to compound the problem. Logging and tracking software can help provide some security, but in reality this is just covering up the problem. Concentrate HR on keeping the staff happy instead!
Simplify the problem; use standard handsets if at all possible with browser access to corporate applications. Don't store locally and don't enable viruses.
Standardise wherever possible; same handsets, laptops, security software, and encryption technique. Proliferation always lessens effectiveness.
Consider all angles; you'll end up with a more comprehensive policy because of it. ®