Strong mobile security requires organizations to balance data protection with consistent access to information and a positive user experience. This process begins with enterprises understanding where their data lives, what it is and how to protect it.

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When It Comes to Mobile Security, How Much Is Enough?


I spend a lot of time talking to people in various roles, industries and companies about security in general and mobile security specifically. Without exception, they are trying figure out what steps they need to take to protect the mobile enterprise. It’s not just a question of what threats exist and how to address them, but also about finding that balance of how much security to deploy.

My point of reference in this discussion is usually the IBM Mobile Security Framework, which provides a blueprint for companies to use when developing a mobile security strategy. It provides an easy-to-follow guide that identifies the various threat vectors and solutions for addressing them with a layered defense.

The Right Amount of Mobile Security

So how much security is enough? I recently had the opportunity to interview Tyler Shields, formerly of Forrester Research, and asked him this very question. The real answer is that it depends — it depends on what you are protecting and why. Let’s just focus on two of the obvious data stores we want to protect: end user information and proprietary company information.

End user information can refer to a variety of user types. We might be talking about internal personnel, and organizations would have their Social Security numbers, salary and benefits information, performance reviews, home addresses and personal contact information, just to name a few things.

External to the business, we could be talking about client information such as patient medical information, financial information for billing and credit purposes, contract information or other confidential, business-related information. In either case there is an expectation from end users that their data will be protected and kept confidential. This requirement is often spelled out in a privacy policy or contract.

So now the challenge becomes valuing that data. How much should I spend in order to protect this information? In some cases, it is easy to put a price on it because you are in a compliance situation where there are legal requirements to protect the data. If it is not properly secured, there are defined penalties.

In other cases, it is much harder to put a clear value on protecting the data. We may be protecting data as part of a trust relationship in which failure adversely impacts the reputation of the enterprise. These costs are often hard to quantify, but they can be significant and far-reaching.

What Data Needs to Be Protected?

Protecting proprietary company data is another area of focus for security teams. Both internal and external end users are demanding mobile access to enterprise data, and the challenge becomes how to deliver access without compromising the security of the data.

Much of this data has traditionally been available via Web access. End users are expecting a similar experience through their mobile device. You need to deploy the appropriate level of security but you don’t want to adversely impact the end user experience.

Information housed within the enterprise may include company financial information, sales data, customer data, product or marketing strategy or a litany of other items that you do not want to make available to the market or competitors. It’s hard to put a value on losing the product development plan for the coming year, but chances are it includes changes that you hope will strengthen your product position in the market — and thus you don’t want competitors to know what’s in that plan.

There is also company data or intellectual property (IP) that is intentionally distributed outside of the organization, such as the latest mobile app you have created to help your business partners forecast client needs. You put a lot of money into developing that app and want to make sure that the algorithms and other IP that went into it don’t fall into competitors’ hands.

A Worthwhile Investment

So what is it worth to protect data and keep it out of the hands of competitors or those with malicious intent? Again, it is hard to identify an exact value, but you could make some assumptions about sales and customer retention and put a number on the cost of losing existing customers or new opportunities. Then you still have to look at how likely the situation is to play out.

The best answer or approach to this may be to employ the concept of deploying security that is good enough. It’s kind of like the story of the two hikers and their discussion of what to do if they encounter a bear. One says to the other,”If we encounter a bear I am going to run,” to which the second hiker asks, “But can you outrun a bear?” The first hiker smiles and responds with, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.”

Much like the fast hiker, your mobile security doesn’t have to be bulletproof. It just has to be good enough to frustrate and deter cybercriminals so they go looking elsewhere for an easier target. Be sure to check out what Shields had to say on the topic of why it is important to have a mobile security framework in mind when developing your mobile security strategy.

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