Employee-owned PCs are scaring enterprise IT

IT departments are worried about security risks when employees use their PCs for work purposes, but employees aren’t going to stop anytime soon.

Largely ignored in the enterprise mobility craze of the last few years, which saw the acceptance of bring-your-own device (BYOD) policies, were the risks incurred when employees use their personal computers to access business data. Now, with PCs designed to operate more seamlessly with smartphones and tablets, enterprise IT could soon face new consumerization challenges.

A recent survey conducted by Vanson Bourne and commissioned by software company 1E found that more than 25% of responding IT decision makers said their organizations do not have a formal policy regarding the use of employee-owned PCs for work purposes. Even the organizations that do impose a policy tend to be loose with their restrictions – 84% of respondents allow employees to access corporate email from their PCs, and 52% allow access to corporate apps. Another 11% of those that don’t allow PCs to be used for work purposes said employees don’t abide by the rule anyway.

This kind of behavior likely has network managers cringing. Among survey respondents who forbid BYOPC among employees, 86% cited security as the primary reason.

At the same time, however, businesses in general are embracing the overall BYOD approach to the tools their employees use for work. A Gartner report from 2013 predicted that half of all employers will not only permit employees to use their own devices for work, but will require them to choose those which will make them the most productive.

So there’s a conflict here – employees are more productive when given the ability to access work information from their personal devices, but they also present a risk to the network when they use the same device to access sensitive corporate data that they use to browse and download content from the web.

In the changing consumer device ecosystem, it may take some time for IT to adapt to this trend. As Galen Gruman pointed out in InfoWorld last year, the rush to create BYOD-focused management and security tools for smartphones outpaced such progress in the PC market. Furthermore, consumer smartphones were relatively new to enterprise IT, making it easier for the culture to adapt to new ways of handling them. But businesses have held control over the PCs used by their employees for two decades, and the policies for managing them are deeply entrenched within IT departments.

Further complicating the issue is the recent push from Apple and Microsoft to make it easier for users to take advantage of the growing acceptance of BYOD policies in the workplace. Apple’s recently released OS X Yosemite has been largely praised for its many features that bridge the gap between iOS devices and Mac PCs. A feature called Handoff, for example, allows users to sync their iOS devices and their Mac. CITEWorld’s Ryan Faas credited the feature for its usability, but warned that it could lead to headaches for enterprise IT:

“The concern, however, is that the functionality, like many Apple technologies, appears to be largely managed by your Apple ID. That means that in addition to handoff working on your work devices, it’s almost certain to work from your work or BYOD devices like your iPhone and your family iMac at home, or an iPad shared by you and your kids. Simply put, it’s another core Apple feature that makes it easy for work and personal data to mix on both work and personal devices, creating data sprawl, security, and accountability challenges.”

Microsoft, on the other hand, appears to have taken these concerns into consideration for Windows 10, which is still in beta. Calling Windows 10, “The BYOD Windows,” Simon Bisson explained in a CITEWorld post that the OS is designed to divide and store corporate and personal data separately.

“That’s the heart of Microsoft’s enterprise sales pitch for Windows 10,” Bisson wrote. “IT departments can apply all the controls they want to corporate applications and information, while users can install all the Minion Rush and Twitter apps they want. CIOs will know the information they’re entrusted with securing won’t leak across into those games and social media, while users will know that an IT admin can’t flick a switch and delete all their photographs of their kids.”

Whether Microsoft is successful remains to be seen. But given that Microsoft is collecting an unprecedented amount of user feedback on the Windows 10 beta, the company is likely to hear about corporate IT’s employee-owned PC conundrum.


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