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The iPad-Enterprise-Data Security Spectrum

By Rich

As I mentioned in the Incite yesterday, Symantec announced DLP support for the iPad. I have been meaning to talk about this for a while, as various products have been popping onto the market, and now seems like the time.

Note: I’m focusing on the iPad because that’s what most people are interested in, but much of what I’m going to talk about also applies to the iPhone.

The iPad is an extremely secure device; odds are it is much more secure than any laptop or desktop you let your users on. The main reason is that it is locked down so tightly with a combination of hardware and software controls. This is also a challenge for security, because you can’t run any background tasks. For the record, I really like this approach – it eliminates the need for things like antivirus in the first place.

For data security, that means we are limited in what we can do. No DLP running in the background, for example. To fill this gap, a spectrum of approaches and tools have hit the market. I like to list them as a spectrum from least control to most. Most control doesn’t mean it’s better – which of these to use depends heavily on the needs of both your organization and your users.

As a baseline I assume you allow access to corporate assets in some way using the device. I’m skipping the “do nothing” and “don’t let them in at all” options:

Here we go:

  1. ActiveSync and device profiles. You allow users access to corporate email, but enforce a basic device profile to require a passcode/password and enable remote wiping if the device is lost. This enables basic encryption of the entire device (easier to crack), with data protection for email attachments.
  2. Server-side DLP. You create DLP policies that restrict the email/files going to an otherwise approved device. Websense offers this – not sure who else.
  3. Walled-garden applications. These are apps like Good for Enterprise, the new Zenprise SharePoint client for iPad, Watchdox, and GroupLogic mobilEcho. All access to documents is purely through the approved app, and the app can restrict opening or usage of that document elsewhere on the device. Remember, if you don’t totally wall the content off, any standard document format can be opened in another app – thus losing any security controls. These usually offer viewing but not editing, because that would require building in a complete editor. There is a very broad range of variation between these apps.
  4. Fully-managed device with always-on VPN. You use mobile device management (MDM) to enforce an always-on VPN connection and block unmanaged network traffic. Then you use DLP on your network to manage traffic and content. This is how Symantec works. They use an app on the device to enforce the VPN, and made changes on the DLP gateway to improve the user experience with the device. For example, the iPad doesn’t handle failed email connections well (it tends to stall), so they had to play games to block protected content from going to Gmail without ruining the device experience.

Each of these models has its own advantages, and there are different levels of control within each tier. But these should give you a good idea of the options. Someday I might write a paper with more detail, but hopefully this is enough for now.

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