The Tricky Challenges of Employees Using Their Own Devices

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One of the trickiest parts of security and management policy-making is to fairly and effectively oversee employees who are using their own gear.


This is an issue whether the equipment is a desktop sitting in a remote worker's home office or a mobile device. The challenges multiple quickly: To what extent can an organization demand that the owner stay away from certain applications, such as peer-to-peer (P2P) networking, that pose a threat? How can the organization monitor whether the employee actually is carrying through on agreed-upon usage policies? What happens to the data on the device when the employee leaves the company? How about when he gets rid of the device?


These questions become far trickier when mobile devices are involved. For instance, people tend to upgrade their phones more often than their desktops, so questions related to how to secure data when a device is traded in, given away or discarded will come up more often than in the desktop world.


The challenge must be faced. Gartner has looked at employee-owned laptops. The study surveyed 528 IT managers with organizations with more than 500 employees in the U.S., Germany and the UK. The firm found that 10 percent of workers use their own notebooks as their primary PCs, and that the number will grow to 14 percent by the middle of next year. The rise in such work arrangements is expected to be particularly steep in the U.S., the study concludes.


It's important to remember that the study has two qualifying factors: It only looks at laptops and it specifies that the device be used as the primary work computer. Thus, the study is fairly narrow. The issues, and the risk management responses from the IT and telecom departments, will affect far more than the 10 or 14 percent of employees cited by Gartner.


One approach, of course, is good solid management policies. On a more technical front, virtualization -- such as this offering from VMware -- is a potential winner. The use of dual operating systems can create a level of differentiation that will help create walls between the consumer and professional tasks for which the devices are being used.


On first glance, there are challenges to this approach, including whether a majority of device owners will be willing to have a virtualized machine installed on their hardware. That and more technical issues notwithstanding, virtualization is a promising tool for confronting the issue.