Everything you need to know about BYOD security

by Andy Nguyen
BYOD Security

If your company allows employees to use their personal devices for work (Bring Your Own Device), you need a BYOD security policy.

Today, most companies incorporate a BYOD culture due to rising remote work demands following the pandemic. While this may leave you open to cyberattacks and data breaches, a robust security policy can help mitigate any such BYOD risk. 

In this article, we’ll discuss why you need BYOD security and how to create an effective BYOD policy in just eight steps

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Let’s get started. 

Why do you need BYOD security?

A BYOD policy lets employees access company networks, data, and other work-related resources through their personal devices. 

However, employees may not be diligent about updating their operating systems and might unintentionally use compromised (hacked or infected) devices for work. When such an employee connects to your corporate network, you may become vulnerable to cyberattacks. 

You may think a simple solution is to avoid personal devices for business purposes. 

But research shows that employees use their personal devices, regardless of a BYOD policy. 

Through BYOD adoption, you can reduce your IT expenses as you don’t have to buy: 

  • New devices.
  • Upgrades.
  • Replacements for lost or stolen devices. 

Doing so shifts the responsibility and user device costs from the employer to the employee. 

According to Cisco, companies can save almost $350/employee every year and increase employee productivity through a BYOD program. 

So, it makes more sense to have a BYOD security policy than restricting employee personal device usage. 

Let’s explore why you need to invest in BYOD security a little more deeply. 

1. Lost and stolen devices can cause a data breach 

Did you know that 70 million phones are lost or misplaced every year, and a laptop is stolen almost every minute? 

These devices are expensive to replace. Even lower-end ones can cost a couple of hundred bucks.

Lost devices are also the main culprit behind 41% of all data breaches during 2005-2015. 

Best-case scenario: the criminal wipes the device without stealing any confidential information. But that’s not usually the case.

If your IT security team doesn’t remotely wipe the unsecured device instantly, all localized stored data is vulnerable to a security breach. 

Even stored contacts and credit card details can pose a severe security risk. 

However, cybercriminals no longer require an actual stolen device. If employees simply check their work email, that could provide a gateway to your corporate network. 

According to a Google study, about 52% of people use the same passwords across multiple online accounts. So, passwords aren’t a substantial security control either. 

As a result, many devices now use biometrics – fingerprints, eye scans, etc. – to access sensitive data. 

But allowing private third parties, such as your service provider, access to biometrics can severely compromise information security. 

For instance, if the third party gets hacked, all their biometric data is available to the hacker, who can now access confidential, sensitive information about the employee and their clients. They can also steal trade secrets that may benefit your competitors. 

2. Potential cybercrime risk 

These days, it can take just 18 seconds for a malware attack to become serious. 

Cybercriminals often hide malware in downloadable files or by posing as a legitimate site. While antivirus software is a must for any device, sometimes new threats aren’t instantly recognized. 

Employees can also download malware on their smartphones through games or malicious apps. Since the app is constantly on the phone, the malware slowly infects the BYOD device. 

As smartphones become more advanced, so does malware. 

So, when employees store company information on their smartphones or use it to access company data, hackers can very easily steal this information. 

3. Risky online behavior 

BYOD’s defining feature is that employees get the freedom to use the same devices for personal and business purposes. 

However, this can pose a serious security risk as you have no control over the sites your employees visit, files they download, or even the WiFi networks they use.

Additionally, your employees may share these personal mobile devices with other family members, such as their kids, who may not be well-versed in mobile security. 

Unsafe online behavior can leave your employee’s personal data as well as your company data unprotected.  

The biggest concern of any BYOD program is privacy – for the employee and the company. 

If your company is the victim of a cybercrime, your employees may take legal action against you for putting their personal data at risk.

Additionally, suppose your employee checks their work email on their device during non-work hours (personal time), but your policy doesn’t clearly distinguish between work and personal use. 

In that case, you may face a penalty for not adequately compensating your employee for overtime work under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

How do you ensure none of this happens to you? 

Your BYOD policy must consider employee input, current usage, and future trends in the industry. You’ll also need an agile and proactive IT department to implement this policy. 

How to create a secure BYOD policy in 8 steps 

Follow the eight steps detailed below to create an effective and secure BYOD policy.  

1. Ask for employee input 

To create an effective BYOD policy, you should ask for and consider your employees’ input

Otherwise, you risk implementing a restrictive BYOD usage policy that discourages participation. 

Through a survey, you can gather relevant information, such as: 

  • Devices currently being used or likely to be used in the future. 
  • List of apps and sites used to access company data and carry out business tasks on personal devices. 
  • BYOD pros and cons from the employee’s point of view. 
  • Employee privacy and data security concerns while using personal devices for business purposes. 

When you have this data, you can ensure your BYOD policy is inclusive, accommodating, and in everyone’s best interests. 

2. Clarify authorized BYOD devices 

Originally, strict BYOD policies detailed which employee devices were and weren’t allowed. 

However, it’s challenging to update, manage, and implement such lists today as employees have more options than ever. They might use and sync multiple devices for work, such as cell phones, personal computers, and even smartwatches. 

By clarifying authorized devices for business use, you can avoid miscommunication and data loss. 

With remote work becoming commonplace, most companies now allow any employee device that meets their security requirements.

3. Implement mandatory security measures 

A BYOD policy can put your employees’ personal devices at risk for cybercrime and other forms of hacking. 

Implementing some basic security measures can go a long way towards protecting your and your employees’ data. 

Some of these may include: 

  • Using passcodes on phone lock screens, preferably longer than a 4-digit PIN. 
  • Using strong passwords on every employee owned device. Passwords should ideally contain lower case letters, upper case letters, numbers, and special characters. 
  • Changing these passwords regularly. 
  • Installing antivirus software and updating it regularly. To keep costs down, you can purchase an enterprise package for all employees. 
  • Encrypting sensitive files with unique passwords through multi-factor authentication. 
  • Regularly backing up onto the cloud in case of data leakage or employee device theft. 
  • Encrypting backups to prevent cloud theft, especially if your organization uses a single cloud solution.

However, it’s important not to go too far. Too many encryption requirements can slow down day-to-day operations and negatively impact employee productivity. 

4. Define service boundaries 

Your policy should define various network security and service aspects. 

For instance, you can clearly state that public WiFi networks pose a serious security threat. 

As such, you can encourage employees only to connect to secure networks, ideally always using an encrypted VPN (Virtual Private Network). 

The policy can also specify whether employees can share these devices with family members. If so, they might need to keep a closer eye on what apps are downloaded and routinely update their antivirus software. 

Additionally, to prevent accidental malware infections, you may blocklist specific file-sharing apps or social media sites from your employees’ devices for business purposes. 

Similarly, you can also allowlist specific apps and sites – allowing access only to pre-approved sites and apps. 

Some other common boundaries are:

  • Not using devices during driving or other risky activities. 
  • Limiting personal calls or texts at work
  • Specifying if employees can take photos or videos in the workplace. 

5. Use advanced security solutions

Certain software technologies in the BYOD security market can help you implement your security policy. 

Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile Application Management (MAM) models were the first versions. They provided remote management of devices, and later, specific apps. 

However, they’re insufficient in a fast-changing digital landscape. 

As a result, many companies adopted the Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) model, which combined elements of MDM and MAM along with: 

  • Containerization: Data is separated into its own bubble and protected by its unique security policies. These apps allow employees full access to the device without any security risks to the company’s data or network. 
  • App wrapping: The company implements security policies on specific apps without affecting their functionality. E.g., not allowing employees to copy-paste corporate data anywhere. 
  • Mobile content management: A part of MDM that provides employees secure access to company data, such as emails, documents, and media files, from any mobile device. 

These days, most companies implement a Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) model. 

It offers device security from all endpoints and use-cases, from wearables to fixed devices. It also allows your IT department to consolidate all your security programs into a single, unified management solution. 

Recently, UEM models have started utilizing AI (Artificial Intelligence) to detect and remedy potential malware from multiple data points and end-users instantly. 

However, you must consider the usability of your employees’ devices while implementing endpoint security controls. If a model is too restrictive, employees may find unsafe workarounds or alternatives. 

6. Provide formal BYOD training 

You could draft the most secure policy available, but your efforts will be in vain if your employees don’t have proper cybersecurity awareness

Before implementing a policy, employees should ideally undergo mandatory security training. This may include: 

  • Explaining top cybersecurity threats, such as phishing schemes, downloading third-party software, password theft, etc. 
  • Providing basic cybersecurity education, e.g., utilizing various security layers. 
  • Detailing policy changes and specific security concerns. 

These training sessions should emphasize the need for IT and device security both inside and outside the workplace. 

When your employees are aware and educated, they can prevent data breaches and leakages through savvy IT practices. 

7. Plan for security incidents 

Devices get misplaced, lost, stolen, or compromised all the time. A good BYOD security solution should have specific protocols in place for each BYOD security challenge. 

Inform your employees to alert the IT department should any of this happen immediately. 

The IT department can then take appropriate steps to block the device and remotely erase all personal and corporate data. It would help if you also planned beyond this immediate reaction. 

For instance, you should consider: 

  • Who’s responsible for replacing stolen or lost devices? 
  • How will it affect your employee’s productivity until they get a replacement? 
  • Are there any spares readily available for use until your employee’s device is replaced? 

Additionally, your employees need to have a clear understanding of the following: 

  • The chain of command regarding security incidents – who to report to, follow-up with, etc.
  • What happens to their personal data after wiping the device?
  • What repercussions will they face, if any? 

You should clearly outline all these situations in your BYOD policy. 

8. Establish an employee onboarding and exit strategy  

New employees should receive a copy of your BYOD policy on arrival. Your IT department can ensure they take all the necessary security precautions. 

Simultaneously, all employees should be clear about what will happen upon leaving the company. 

For instance, your IT department could ensure all company data, proprietary applications, passwords, etc., are systematically erased from employee devices during the notice period.

However, this shouldn’t compromise your employee’s personal data. If your company requires a complete erase, instruct your employees to backup everything to their private cloud or another device. 

Although this is your employee’s personal device, they used it for business purposes. As a security measure, your IT department should carefully monitor it during onboarding and offboarding. 

3 BYOD alternatives 

While the BYOD trend is taking off, some alternatives can prove more secure and successful. 

1. COPE (Corporate-owned personally-enabled) 

Under this strategy, the company owns the user device, but employees are free to personalize them using non-work-related apps, with some restrictions. 

2. CYOD (Choose your own device)

Here, the employees choose their own devices from a set of pre-approved corporate devices.  

3. BYOA (Bring your own application) 

In BYOA, companies focus on encouraging and endorsing third-party cloud-based apps, such as Google Drive, Slack, etc., for work purposes. These consumer-driven apps give employees the flexibility to use their preferred tools on any device – personal or company-owned. 

Wrapping up 

An ideal BYOD security policy covers everything from potential data leakage to providing each employee with their own VPN. 
When you draft a policy covering all these topics, you minimize BYOD security risks and help your employees achieve a healthy work-life balance. This, in turn, boosts their productivity and overall satisfaction.

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