While bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies allow for increased flexibility and productivity, they also bring on new security challenges for IT departments.
Bring-your-own-device policies, often abbreviated as BYOD, are when organizations allow employees to use their personal devices — including cell phones, tablets, and computers — to connect to company resources.
In the era of hybrid and remote work, BYOD policies are incredibly commonplace, and Lookout’s State of Remote Work Security 2023 report found that 92% of remote workers use personal tablets and smartphones for work tasks.
BYOD policies have done more than just change the way we work — they’ve also dramatically changed the cybersecurity risk landscape. To keep up with the changing environment, you need to understand the risks and best practices associated with BYOD security.
What is BYOD security?
While BYOD policies allow for increased flexibility and productivity, they also bring on new security challenges for IT departments. Lookout’s survey found that 43% of remote employees use their personal devices rather than company-issued equipment, and a majority of employees admit to doing personal tasks during work hours.
Another 60% admit to sending emails between work and personal accounts and 45% recycle passwords for work and personal accounts. All these stats add up to one big problem: when people use their personal devices for work, the risks they encounter in their personal lives also become risks for your organization.
If you’ve transitioned from primarily using corporate-owned devices to a BYOD policy, you need to develop a security policy that addresses the unique risks and challenges that come along with BYOD devices. This includes a plan to secure both traditional endpoints like laptops and desktops and mobile endpoints like smartphones and tablets. Your BYOD security policy should cover how these devices interact with your sensitive data across SaaS applications, private enterprise apps, and the internet, as well as the specific devices and operating systems (OS) that a company supports for work-related use.
Common BYOD security risks and vulnerabilities
As more of your employees use their personal devices for work, new risks to your data get introduced. These are some of the most common BYOD security risks your organization will face.
Data theft, leakage and loss
When employees use their personal devices to access corporate data, every BYOD device becomes a vector for potential data leakage and breaches. If a device is compromised, attackers can access any corporate data that’s stored on it. And even worse, they can use any credentials stored on the device to access data that’s stored on corporate networks.
Managed corporate devices typically have some sort of security program installed on them, but that’s not always the case for BYOD devices, and there’s no way for you to check. If a personal device doesn’t have any sort of security on it, employees become easy targets for malware. After a personal device is infected, malware can access the data already stored on the device, or steal the user’s credentials, which eventually leads to a compromised account.
It’s also hard to guarantee that personal devices are up to date with the latest operating system. With managed corporate devices, IT can force updates, but under a BYOD model, employees become responsible for ensuring their devices are up to date. However, they often don’t install updates as soon as they become available, leaving devices with unpatched vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers.
Increased phishing risks
The rise of hybrid work and BYOD policies has also coincided with a rise in phishing attacks particularly targeted at mobile devices. Attackers send different types of phishing messages to deploy malware or steal credentials, and users tend to be much less careful on their personal tablet or smartphone devices. Lookout’s Global State of Mobile Phishing Report found that in 2022, over half of all personal devices were exposed to mobile phishing attacks every quarter.
Mixing personal and business use
Another common security risk that comes along with BYOD policies is that employees use the same device for business and personal use. Lookout found that the majority of remote and hybrid workers admit to doing personal tasks during work hours, and these workers are also less likely to use data security best practices.
For remote and hybrid workers, convenience frequently trumps security, with 60% admitting to sending email from their work account to a personal account, and 45% using the same passwords for both work and personal accounts. When employees mix personal use with business use, it means that if an employee's personal account gets compromised, sensitive corporate information could be compromised along with it.
Most employees would probably think twice before installing a dating app on a corporate-owned device, but they wouldn’t hesitate to install it on their personal phone. BYOD policies mean that corporate resources are commingling with apps and software that haven’t been approved by IT. Lookout found that one-third of all employees use unapproved apps and software, which results in shadow IT. Ultimately, this means you can’t ensure personal devices are safe places for corporate data.
How to develop a robust BYOD cybersecurity policy
BYOD policies allow people to work from anywhere and get more done, providing flexibility that enables your hybrid workforce to stay productive. But for IT departments, they also mean a newfound lack of visibility into what’s happening with corporate data.
When everyone was using corporate-issued devices, IT teams could accurately gauge the organization’s overall security posture. But with personal devices in the mix, you may not realize all the security risks your employees encounter. These devices are typically not enrolled in your organization’s device management solution, which means your IT and security teams have very little visibility into what kind of data the device is accessing, the apps installed, or the operation system level.
This is why it’s so critical to have a well-developed BYOD security policy in place that defines acceptable use and security controls and emphasizes the importance of data security best practices.
Steps to implement best practices for BYOD security
Because BYOD devices introduce new risks to your organization, you need to step up your security to manage them. These are some of the BYOD security best practices that will help you keep both managed and unmanaged devices secure and protect your organization’s sensitive data.
1. Create a security culture through continuous employee training
One of the best ways to keep BYOD devices secure is to train your employees on the risks associated with BYOD devices. When a user begins using a personal device for work, teach them how to recognize the risks they may encounter — including new mobile phishing tactics — and emphasize the importance of practices like using strong passwords, keeping devices up to date, and using multifactor authentication (MFA). Users should also be instructed to contact internal IT and security teams if they encounter risks like phishing and malware.
It’s also important that this isn’t a one-time training. Once users have been onboarded with their personal devices, send regular reminders and tips to keep BYOD security at the front of their minds.
2. Monitor personal devices to secure corporate data and prevent breaches
One of the biggest challenges surrounding BYOD security is that some of your organization’s data rests on personal devices that are outside of your visibility and control. To combat this, you need a BYOD security policy that includes comprehensive data loss prevention (DLP) technology. With a DLP solution, you can classify sensitive data and set data handling policies for how it can be used in order to prevent unintentional and malicious data leakage — even on personal devices
Advanced BYOD security measures
Once you’ve implemented basic best practices for BYOD security, these are more advanced security measures you can take to ensure your sensitive data stays secure, regardless of what device it’s on.
Encryption of sensitive data
With so much data now located on personal devices, organizations need a way to secure their sensitive data even when it leaves their sphere of influence. With enterprise digital rights management (EDRM), you can mask, redact, and watermark data so that access is restricted on BYOD devices, as well as automatically encrypt data so you can enforce data security policies even on unmanaged devices.
Application control and management
Employees who use personal devices will inevitably end up downloading unvetted apps, including malicious apps, that expand your organization's risk surface. These apps may ask for risky permissions like access to local files, address book, and location, which might seem harmless, but they put corporate data at risk. To improve your organization's overall risk posture, you need to have continuous risk-based monitoring that gives you visibility into how apps are handling data and what vulnerabilities or malicious codes might be embedded in them. In extreme cases, organizations may even decide to block access to apps that are deemed particularly risky.
Mobile device management and containerization
Mobile device management (MDM) used to be the go-to solution for keeping track of employees’ devices. But in the age of BYOD, it’s not enough. MDM is typically only used on corporate-owned devices, and it doesn’t have continuous threat monitoring. To keep corporate data secure on personal devices, you need a combination of mobile threat defense (MTD) and endpoint detection and response (EDR), which gives you visibility into issues like outdated operating systems, risky data handling practices, and mobile phishing threats.
To separate enterprise data from personal data on BYOD devices, you may choose to employ “containerization,” which can keep your corporate data safer if a user encounters a threat while using their device in a personal capacity.
Addressing BYOD security challenges
We’ve gone over many ways you can tighten BYOD security — but sometimes, security comes at the expense of worker productivity. Here’s how you can make sure employees can find what they need to get their job done without granting overly permissive access.
Common sense approach to access management
When people are working from personal devices, it can be challenging to ensure people are who they say they are. Credentials can be stolen, so you can’t rely on a binary yes-no approach to access. Instead, you need visibility into user behavior so you can identify risky behaviors and shut down potential threats.
Insights into device health can also help you make more granular access decisions. If a device has an outdated operating system, has been exposed to a phishing or network threat, or doesn’t have proper antivirus software installed, you can restrict access accordingly.
Provide zero-trust remote access to corporate apps
You need a way to secure corporate resources when people use personal laptops and desktops to connect. VPNs used to be the go-to solution for remote access, but they can’t protect your organization from malware or compromised accounts, and they also slow down the productivity that comes along with remote work. Solutions like zero trust network access (ZTNA) and cloud access security brokers (CASB) can give remote users granular access to specific apps and data based on risk levels, providing seamless access to those who need it and restricting access to those with higher risk levels, which contains the risk of insider threats and account takeover.
How to evaluate and enhance technology capabilities for BYOD security
When selecting a solution to help you enforce your BYOD security policy, it’s critical to evaluate the technology for usability and test its capabilities. During this process, you should aim to answer these four important questions:
- How will we deploy the solution to our employees?
- How does the solution enable us to monitor the security of both managed and unmanaged devices?
- Can the solution detect all the threats that our organization is facing?
- How will the solution’s vendor support us when needed?
The answers to these questions will guide you toward the best security solution for your organization so that you can detect and respond to all the BYOD risks you might encounter.
What are the main security risks associated with BYOD?
When organizations have BYOD policies, they face a host of security risks. These include data leakage and loss, malware infection, increased exposure to phishing risks, and shadow IT. BYOD devices can also have unpatched vulnerabilities from out-of-date devices, and employees who use BYOD devices may mix personal and business use.
How can organizations create an effective BYOD security policy?
Organizations can create an effective BYOD security policy by embracing BYOD security best practices that secure both managed and unmanaged devices. This includes providing the proper training to employees so they know how to stay safe against threats while using BYOD devices and monitoring personal devices to ensure the corporate data on them remains secure. Additionally, businesses should have a clear and comprehensive BYOD policy in place that outlines acceptable use and security procedures.
What are some advanced security measures for BYOD?
After implementing BYOD security best practices, organizations can take advanced measures by encrypting sensitive data, limiting access to risky apps, and implementing mobile device security solutions like MTD and mobile EDR.
How can businesses ensure compliance and manage risks in a BYOD environment?
To properly manage the security risks associated with BYOD policies, organizations must address the most common BYOD security challenges by implementing a granular approach to access management and providing a zero-trust remote access solution to corporate apps. By using the right security solutions, including BYOD security solutions such as ZTNA and CASB, organizations enable their employees to use personal devices without compromising data security.
Developing a lasting BYOD security policy
When your organization adopts a BYOD policy, your employees can be more flexible and productive — but BYOD also introduces new risks to your corporate data. To combat those risks, you need to develop BYOD security best practices including comprehensive employee training, regular scanning of BYOD devices for malware and other security threats, data loss protection that works on both managed and unmanaged devices, and monitoring device risk levels.
One of the final things to keep in mind when building a BYOD security policy is that your policy shouldn’t be static. It’s crucial to review your policies on an ongoing basis and change them as needed to address evolving cybersecurity risks.
To learn more about how BYOD policies and hybrid work affect your organization’s security, check out our free report, The State of Remote Work Security 2023. You’ll learn about the employee practices that make your data less secure and how your organization can best protect its data when employees use their personal devices.
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