Accessing information from mobile devices is becoming second nature for business users and executives who need to be connected to performance data 24/7. We've seen predictions from Gartner heralding 2012 as the year of mobile BI explosion, where employees will bring their own smartphones and tablet PCs into the workplace. As the number of organizations that have implemented (or are planning to implement) mobile BI increases, there are mounting concerns about mobile security. Lack of control of downloaded applications, lack of centralized server management, and virus protection are some of the concerns that come to mind as business users tote their shiny new personal tablets to work.
Let's examine more closely how your IT team can handle these issues:
The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon. Understandably so, many of us (myself included) have begun taking our own devices to work. Tablets and smartphones can be remarkably efficient for business users on the go, and sometimes it's just easier to have your personal and business information on the same device. Since the company doesn’t own the device, there is no legal way of controlling what apps an individual can download. However, exposure to malicious software (malware) can pose a tremendous threat to business information. One way to address this concern is to whitelist applications so users have a selection of applications to choose from that IT approves. Employees can still use their devices at work, but within IT-sanctioned limits. IT may also ask users to install a mobile security package to help detect and remove malicious applications.
Mobile device security. Data breaches are a very real threat to data stored on mobile devices. This risk may seem obvious, but accidents do happen. Employees may inadvertently leave their smartphone or tablet in a cab, or at a Mexican restaurant while on a business trip (the arcplanner responsible shall remain nameless), complete with company confidential information. Even if, by some miracle, the device is returned to the owner at some point, company data was likely jeopardized if you had no security controls in place. Client contact information, sales projections or company financials for example are not for public viewing. Be sure to use the security features available on the device such as password protection or full disk encryption to protect your data (full disk encryption makes the hard drive is unreadable without the proper decryption keys). An article recently published by Forbes explained that for some states such as Nevada and Massachusetts, the law states that businesses must secure and encrypt all mobile devices in order to protect customer data. For Blackberry and RIM devices, there is even the ability to remotely erase the content on the device through server management, lest your mobile device falls into the wrong hands. However, no such management feature is available for Apple or Google devices as yet, so this is a significant hurdle to overcome at present.
BI application security for mobile devices. Application security has to do with measures taken to prevent unauthorized access to information. Most BI applications that run on a desktop require log-in authentication with a username and password as a way of controlling user access. This level of security should also be enforced on mobile devices so that even if your device falls into the wrong hands, company confidential information remains password protected. Yes, it's a pain to have to sign in to view your BI reports and dashboards, but until people stop losing things, it's a necessity. Furthermore, suppose an employee who has used his or her mobile device for work is terminated. IT can simply deactivate the user credentials associated with the BI application and the user may no longer access company information, even from a mobile device.
As we move further into the age of mobility, there's no avoiding the fact that some employees will use their personal mobile devices to access corporate information. Safeguarding data is a joint effort between IT managers who implement the security plan and business users who "play nice" by staying within IT-defined parameters so as not to jeopardize company data. One of the keys to deploying mobile devices securely throughout your organization is striking a balance between the right level of security and the freedom your mobile users want.