Kurt Marko

Contributing Editor


Upcoming Events

Where the Cloud Touches Down: Simplifying Data Center Infrastructure Management

Thursday, July 25, 2013
10:00 AM PT/1:00 PM ET

In most data centers, DCIM rests on a shaky foundation of manual record keeping and scattered documentation. OpManager replaces data center documentation with a single repository for data, QRCodes for asset tracking, accurate 3D mapping of asset locations, and a configuration management database (CMDB). In this webcast, sponsored by ManageEngine, you will see how a real-world datacenter mapping stored in racktables gets imported into OpManager, which then provides a 3D visualization of where assets actually are. You'll also see how the QR Code generator helps you make the link between real assets and the monitoring world, and how the layered CMDB provides a single point of view for all your configuration data.

Register Now!

A Network Computing Webinar:
SDN First Steps

Thursday, August 8, 2013
11:00 AM PT / 2:00 PM ET

This webinar will help attendees understand the overall concept of SDN and its benefits, describe the different conceptual approaches to SDN, and examine the various technologies, both proprietary and open source, that are emerging. It will also help users decide whether SDN makes sense in their environment, and outline the first steps IT can take for testing SDN technologies.

Register Now!

More Events »

Subscribe to Newsletter

  • Keep up with all of the latest news and analysis on the fast-moving IT industry with Network Computing newsletters.
Sign Up

See more from this blogger

BYOD Security: Do You Really Need MDM?

IT pros can be excused for feeling besieged by the influx of user-owned smartphones and tablets that are linking up to corporate WLANs, email systems and Web apps. But employees are only one source of IT's stress. The other is vendors. Companies large and small are stampeding IT into buying MDM software and services as the wonder app to fix all their BYOD security problems. But MDM isn't a silver bullet, nor necessarily needed for all situations, particularly at SMBs.

MDM replicates the central command and control model so dear to IT that was originally disrupted when PCs invaded the enterprise. Fast forward a couple decades and we're into the latest iteration of client chaos and IT's ongoing battle for control. Indeed, the notion that IT can install some software hooks into every employee's phone or tablet and gain unfettered command over every setting and bit of local data is seductive. But in an era where the phone or tablet is an extension of someone's personal life, this dream is not only unrealistic, it's probably unnecessary.

More Insights

Webcasts

More >>

White Papers

More >>

Reports

More >>

Mobile devices are inherently connected, meaning virtually no information is persistently stored on the device itself. Smartphones and tablets are portals to online services. Yes, there's still bits of sensitive corporate data on an employee's device, like contact lists and cached email attachments, but IT's bigger concern in this post-PC era should controlling who and what is actually on your WLAN, a job better handled by wireless intrusion prevention systems, WIPS.

As I write in the latest InformationWeek State of WLANs report, "A WIPS is an independent radio frequency overlay to existing WLANs that continuously scans the full 2.4 GHz and 5GHz spectrum range, not just defined Wi-Fi channels, for unauthorized devices -- a WLAN security guard in the ether, if you will. As intruders are detected, the WIPS can proactively block both rogue APs and endpoints."

In fact, as Kaustubh Phanse, Chief Evangelist at AirTight Networks, an innovator in WIPS technology, argues, WIPS can complement MDM. He points out that MDM doesn't provide visibility to, nor control over, the devices actually accessing your network. WIPS can enforce network access policies and can automatically direct unregistered users through a captive portal to download any necessary MDM agents or software before gaining unfettered network access.

Network Access Control (NAC) systems can also enforce network policies, but WIPS provides a superset of NAC features tailored for wireless environments. Whereas NAC works at the network (MAC) level, WIPS adds in control at the RF level. For example, NAC can't detect a rogue AP sitting behind a legitimate laptop acting as a bridge, while WIPS can. In addition to AirTight, other vendors with WIPS products include Cisco Systems, Meru Networks, and Motorola Solutions' AirDefense.

[ Join us at Interop Las Vegas for access to 125+ IT sessions and 300+ exhibiting companies. Register today! ]

But wait, doesn't MDM prevent unprotected mobile devices from spreading malware over your internal networks? In theory, yes; in reality, no. Malware of the type used for Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) must be targeted at a specific OS, so the chances of a smartphone-infecting Trojan spreading to your servers or routers are essentially nil.

Furthermore, preventing such contagion certainly doesn't require complete control over the endpoint. Sure, mobile malware might access your contact list and location information, and some may eventually evade OS sandboxes to siphon email messages and attachment downloads, but at present, it doesn't threaten your infrastructure. So the question IT needs to ask is how much control over a relatively limited set of mobile device data do you need or can afford? For most organizations, it's probably more important to prevent unauthorized devices accessing and snooping your network than it is to worry about every bit of data on an employee's personal device.

The biggest threat to mobile data loss is lost or stolen devices, and there are plenty of cheap or free ways to nuke one of those. Any iPhone or Android owner that hasn't activated Find My iPhone, Where's my Droid, or the equivalent service is asking for heartbreak the first time their phone comes up missing. Many smaller IT departments can leverage these services as a backstop to keep sensitive data from prying eyes. For example, IT could use Apple's free iOS Configuration Utility to automatically configure employees' phones with an IT-controlled AppleID solely for use with Find My iPhone and use Device Restrictions to keep thieves from turning it off. Of course, this control must be used cautiously on personal devices since sometimes it may be false alarm; you may be erasing a phone that a VP absent-mindedly left in his second car for a few days.

Don't get me wrong: MDM is an important adjunct to IT's administrative toolbox, but it's only one piece of a security portfolio, and one that some organizations can delay in several ways, including judicious use of online services, policies and application choices that keep persistent data off of smartphones. Some employee training and the use of low-cost or even free remote wiping systems are other options. Before rushing off to lock down personal devices with MDM, it's far more important to harden the network they'll be using with both wireless-specific products like WIPS and standard network security tools such as firewalls, IPSs, UTM appliances and automated monitoring software.

Kurt Marko is an IT pro with broad experience, from chip design to IT systems.


Related Reading


Network Computing encourages readers to engage in spirited, healthy debate, including taking us to task. However, Network Computing moderates all comments posted to our site, and reserves the right to modify or remove any content that it determines to be derogatory, offensive, inflammatory, vulgar, irrelevant/off-topic, racist or obvious marketing/SPAM. Network Computing further reserves the right to disable the profile of any commenter participating in said activities.

 
Disqus Tips To upload an avatar photo, first complete your Disqus profile. | Please read our commenting policy.
 
Vendor Comparisons
Network Computing’s Vendor Comparisons provide extensive details on products and services, including downloadable feature matrices. Our categories include:

Research and Reports

Network Computing: April 2013



TechWeb Careers