Today BYOD and the consumerization of IT aren’t just buzzwords on the horizon, they’re fact of business life and have begun transforming the workplace for millions of professionals. Many solutions exist to deal with managing user-owned mobile devices and integrating them to varying degrees with corporate resources and shared data – something that the explosion of cloud products is helping to drive. Many enterprise cloud solutions (public and private) exist to meet these demands while ensuring data management and security.
Unfortauntely, cloud solutions aren’t limited to the workplace and consumer cloud products including Apple’s iCloud, Dropbox, Box.net, Google Docs and many others have become staple parts of our daily lives. That’s great news for all of as consumers. It gives us access to our files and data anywhere at anytime on almost any device. But consumer cloud technologies pose a big headache for IT professionals who are responsible with keeping business and workplace data both readily available and appropriately secured.
There are three pretty straightforward reasons that consumer cloud systems are a serious concern to IT:
- IT professionals have no way to secure, retrieve, or remove data from them
- IT departments don’t even have a way to be certaing who is using consumer clouds or even what services they’re using
- There are very few methods or tools that IT staff can use to prevent or mitigate their use
- When users encounter problems with consumer clouds, they may expect IT to resolve them, which IT staff may not be able to do
That’s a recipe for all kinds of problems from something as simple as someone losing part of a project they were working on to confidential information like client lists, account numbers, or patient health data becoming public knowledge.
These are very real scenarios that can happen with no malicious intent on the part of employees who are using various cloud solutions with their iPhone, iPad, personal notebook, or even a computer at a client’s office. The ease and ubquity of today’s cloud solutions as well as the redundncy and fail over that consumer cloud providers need to build into that prodcuts make them incredible tools. Workers can’t really be faulted for wanting to make use of them as time savers and productivity aids. The vast majority of people are using them simply for those reasons, which are laundable in many respects since doing so increases the value they offer to a company.
The problem is that all that ubiquity, relibability, and ease makes it exceedingly simple for data to walk out the door and into the cloud, where it can remain for years without anyone noticing – including the people who put it there in the first place. For example, I could tell you every file that’s migrated to my Dropbox account off the top of my head or what versions of some files Dropbox is keeping available if I need to recover something.
I’d like to be able to say that there’s a magic bullet for this problem – some new technology that can do for consumer clouds (including iCloud) what MDM did for iPhones and iPads when Apple released iOS4. But there really isn’t one.
CIOs and IT directors can block access to the domain names and ports of every public cloud service they can think of, but with so many devices offering 3G/4G connections, that isn’t feasible. Even absent that issue, you won’t realistically be able to locate every service people might use and couldn’t block them all effectively in most organizations even if you did.
The best option is to engage the workers at your company. Explain to them the risks, try to discourage many cloud solutions, and invest in alternatives that you can manage. That’s an ongoing task and it isn’t as simple as issuing a policy that you can’t really enforce.
Ultimately, this can be one big advantage to embracing BYOD. Doing so gives you the option to interact with your users and understand how they’re using their mobile device as well as to offer guidance and, where it makes sense to limit access to some apps or services through mobile management.