BYOD Risks: Should Account Lockout Be Used After Failed Logins?

Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) is an unstoppable force. According to recent research sponsored by Tenable Network Security, 72 percent of organizations allow BYOD, with 40 percent making it available to all employees. Although BYOD risks can compromise enterprise security, the advantages are manifold. A successful BYOD program can improve employee and IT productivity, facilitate collaboration, reduce operating expenses and enhance customer support.

Developing a Policy to Reduce BYOD Risks

It is sensible to develop a policy that specifies what is acceptable and ensures that every user is aware of BYOD risks. An effective policy requires corporate data held on devices to be encrypted, the use of a PIN or password for unlocking devices, and remote wipe or lock capabilities. Many of these requirements can be controlled through the use of technology such as mobile device management (MDM).

But there are other aspects of a security policy that could be enacted to protect sensitive information and devices. For example, some security experts recommend activating an automatic locking function after a specified number of unsuccessful login attempts on a mobile device. Users may resist this policy, since it could potentially keep them from working and dent their productivity. They may even try to circumvent the process, especially if their devices are used for personal purposes as well as work.

Additionally, some users may have young children who get a hold of their devices. Their failed login attempts could inadvertently lock a phone or tablet. The growing use of fingerprint recognition can also be problematic, since it can often require several attempts to get a correct match.

Balancing Security With Practicality

To deal with these issues, organizations must reach a happy medium that balances practicality with security. Unless an enterprise has a help desk that is manned 24/7, user frustration will be high if workers are locked out after hours. Requiring users to contact the help desk will also add to the costs for an organization.

One alternative is to set the lockout duration to a specific time period, such as 30 minutes, before users are able to try again. The duration could increase upon repeated failed attempts, perhaps by an hour or more. This may still be frustrating for users, but it can help prevent anyone who has found or stolen a device from guessing the password. It will also provide a window of opportunity for users to report devices as missing, during which the IT department could wipe the device remotely — so long as MDM tools are used and containerization is enabled so work and personal data are kept separate on one device. Another alternative is to set up a web-based service for employees to request temporary passwords, which are then automatically generated and sent to corporate email addresses.

BYOD risks are real, but it is imperative to strike a balance. Account for security, but do not prevent users from accessing their devices for long periods of time. Requiring that devices are locked after a certain number of failed login attempts is widely considered good policy, but only if procedures are put in place to complement security requirements with practicality. Those procedures need not be onerous to reduce BYOD risks and ensure effective mobile security.

Learn more about Updating your security with mobile multi-factor authentication

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Fran Howarth

Senior Analyst, Bloor Research

Fran Howarth is an industry analyst and writer specialising in security. She has worked within the security technology sector for more than 25 years in an advisory capacity as an analyst, consultant and writer. Fran focuses on the business needs for security technologies, with a focus on emerging technology sectors. Current areas of focus include cloud security, data security, identity and access management, network and endpoint security, security intelligence and analytics, and security governance and regulations.