Top security nightmares: Privately owned iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices

iPhones, iPads and other employee-owned mobile gear are the most risky devices that can be connected to corporate networks, according to a new survey by ISACA, an international user group devoted to providing benchmarks and guidance for technology best practices.

More on managing mobile devices: How to protect smartphones and tablets 

According to the survey, 58% of respondents saying mobile gear represent the greatest risk to the enterprise. That beats out any work-supplied devices including smartphones, laptops, notebooks, tablets and flash drives, which combined were the top fear of just 33%.

Despite this fear, 49% of respondents say their companies have up-to-date mobile security policies that are well communicated to the staff. Another 32% say they have such policies but they need to be updated and the staff made aware of them.

IN DEPTH: Smartphones, devices spark IT security "mobile melee" 

"We don't have it figured out yet. There is no one answer," says John Pironti, president of IP Architects and an adviser to ISACA in creating the survey. Because the use of mobile devices, particularly tablets, in enterprise networks is so new, IT security professionals haven't created a set of widely agreed-to best practices, he says.

Respondents acknowledge risks mobile devices pose, with 44% saying they are aware of corporate data being insecurely stored on such devices and 27% knowing about lost devices that might be used to access corporate networks.

Businesses must be concerned about compliance with governmental and industry regulations about security, Pironti says, and that means focusing on protecting data regardless of what device it's stored on. "If the data is secured, other risks won't be as big a deal," he says.

Respondents seem uncertain what to do to secure mobile devices. For example, 46% prohibit employees from installing applications on devices used for work and 42% don't.

In another instance there is no clear consensus on what security stance to take toward personal devices that are allowed to connect to corporate networks: 13% have policies to control all features on personal devices; 22% have policies with limited controls; 15% require encryption, passwords and managing non-personal data on these devices; 14% say they have a policy but don't control or modify personal devices; 10% have no policy about these devices.

This reflects overall lack of agreement about the overall value of permitting use of personal devices on corporate networks. The benefits outweigh the risks for 27%; the risks outweigh the benefits for 37%; and the two are balanced for 36%.

When asked to similarly rank the risks and benefits of cloud computing, 20% say the benefits outweigh the risks; 41% say the risks outweigh the benefits; and 39% say the risks and benefits are balanced.

This is reflected in actual cloud use, with 25% limiting such use to low-risk, non-mission critical IT services and 14% using cloud for mission-critical IT services. Another 21% say they don't use cloud IT services at all.

Respondents graded themselves highly on integrating IT risk management with their companies' overall risk management as 23% say they are very effective in doing so, and 58% saying they are somewhat effective. 14% say they are not effective.

The biggest drivers for IT risk management are complying with regulations (26%) and avoiding security breaches and other negative incidents (22%). By far, budget limits are the greatest hindrance to the highest percentage (37%) of respondents.

The most effective steps businesses can take to improve IT risk management are increasing employee awareness and improving coordination between IT and enterprise risk management, with 31% of respondents picking each.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

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Tim Greene

Network World
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