Do personal devices in the office really compromise security?

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Back in 2014 Barack Obama made front page news when he revealed in Bear Grylls Goes Wild, that he didn’t know how to use an iPhone.

Nobody could believe that arguably the most powerful man in the world could not master one of the most popular and profitable products in history... But why?

Amusingly demonstrating his inabilities, Obama attempted to take a selfie and instead managed to switch the phone off. As ridiculous as it seemed he assured viewers that his iPhone ignorance was necessary. For security reasons the White House don’t use smart phones.

This may be a relatively drastic example, but the American government’s security decisions are part of a decision that many businesses also have to make when considering their own digital direction, whether it be with work-supplied or personal devices. The decisions about how employees engage with technology can be a complex one, and security and financial implications lead the debate.

Do personal devices in the office really compromise security?

Are you bringing your own device?

Often large companies supply their workforce with a set device universal to the whole business. This way fixed security and internet regulations are already in place. The alternative is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), where each member of staff brings in their own device to use for work, often the same device they use at home. 

The biggest contributory factor in making the decision to bring in your own device is individual flexibility, as well as the amount of money and time a company can save.

Having to undertake drawn-out research into different phones, contracts and software packages is hugely time consuming. On top of this, learning what software is compatible with which devices, and then making sure you are offered the best price takes up even more time. A further problem is the considerable damage done to a yearly budget when purchasing bulk devices for all your staff. Instead, BYOD can let staff choose individual devices which suit them best, in their own time.


Contrary to this is the ever-present problem with security. Having your workforce managing their own independent devices opens the company up to endless security risks and virus exposure. From signing up to online groups which share personal or client details to accidentally opening pages which contain software viruses, everything is linked to the company, and thereby the company is put at risk. Once a virus is in the system, it is difficult to remove, and if there is sensitive information in any form stored on the device, it could be exposed. 

Another key concern for businesses is that ever-present issue of trust. Can you trust your employees to do work when their personal phones offer a minefield of distractions?

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The fool within

ZDNet published an article asking “why the biggest security risk is the fool within rather than the enemy without”. The article revealed that 87% of IT Services within businesses using BYOD feel the main security risk comes from “mobile devices in the hands of careless employees”. So is BYOD a sensible decision?

Despite security risks to personal devices, measures can be taken to block software corruption. Email services now allow you to push security settings, which means you have to set a security policy on your phone that your company has approved, in order to keep both software and hardware safe. By being email centric, you, and therefore the company, are directed away from digital danger.

Personal devices can have restricted contracts and tariffs, but if the phone is also for personal use, these restrictions can cause disagreements. Buyers can forget that their employees may not have the most up-to-date devices with infinite resources, and that therefore work apps must cater to this.

Limited data plans and storage can become a problem if you require your employees to be using work apps which don't work offline and contain huge file sizes. The tools you deploy instantly become inaccessible if you require all employees to use their own data and storage. What if they don't have any?

If using BYOD, any work apps or platforms must support all devices by remaining small and, in simple terms, non-invasive.

Proving merit

The freedom of choice means a BYOD businesses will have a wide range of devices, potentially from iPhones to Nokia’s. This versatility poses its own problems, as without one set device, there cannot be an efficient and dedicated internal support line for technical issues. Any works applications consequently must work on any device, old or now, android or iPhone. 

Security risks can be further combated with the adoption of Mobile Device Management. MDM software can house all security settings, which can be opened in the background at any chosen time. This means high security settings can be applied when the device is being used for work purposes, yet can be switched off when you get home. Citrix XenMobile is a great example of successful security management software, increasing productivity for work and personal devices. 

The most important thing for businesses considering BYOD, is to outline priorities, whether it be the best security or the most cost-efficient option. Adoption for BYOD is growing as software to combat security concerns continue to prove their merit.

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