Mobile devices have become so ingrained in the lives of today's business end users that many would argue that corporate employees simply can't do their jobs without them. Smartphones and tablets are now seen in the hands of employees in nearly every industry, and the enterprise application development market has been feeling the effects of boosted corporate demand.
However, as staff members continue to leverage handheld hardware to bolster their abilities at work, the security of these devices becomes even more critical. As employees access more sensitive company information via their smartphones and tablets, company leaders cannot afford to keep these endpoints – and the business at large – unprotected.
Rising levels of mobile device use
Workers in every sector have been increasing their use of mobile device, including in government agencies. According to a new FCW study, more than 40 percent of local, state and federal agency employees use smartphones, tablets or laptops for work purposes. Furthermore, when asked about the statement "our agency's employees cannot do their jobs effectively without using their mobile devices," 22 percent said they strongly agreed and 30 percent noted that they somewhat agree.
In fact, not only are these staffers leveraging their devices more frequently, these endpoints have become more useful recently.
"We've had mobile devices in government for about a decade, but in the past couple of years, the applications and devices have become much more sophisticated, and richer set of tools has been developed and deployed," said Chris Smith, U.S. federal chief technology and innovation officer at Accenture Federal Services. "At the same time, there are more applications for them, and agencies have come up with some very productive ways to take advantage of the capabilities."
PC use falling behind mobile devices
The trend toward mobile devices is prevalent across every industrial sector, and Gartner found that users are now utilizing their smartphones and tablets over traditional workstations. The research firm predicted that over the next three years, shipments of PCs will fall behind that of mobile devices. The decline began last year when PC shipments fell by 7.6 percent and will continue through 2017. At the same time, tablet shipments increased by 70 percent in 2013 and will rise by more than 300 percent through the next three years. In addition, smartphone shipments increased by 80 percent last year.
Struggling with endpoint security
As mobile devices continue to make their way into corporate settings and employees leverage them to access increasingly sensitive company information, administrators are struggling to ensure hardware and data safety. In fact, a Forrester survey found that last year, one of the top challenges being faced by today's businesses was securing devices against zero-day and targeted malware attacks.
The study also found that 89 percent of companies had antivirus or anti-spyware in place, although only 29 percent had plans in place to govern the upgrade of these protection systems. As the number of malware samples continues to rise – reaching 147 million new, unique strains last year alone – it is even more critical to ensure that endpoints are protected against these and other malicious threats.
Besides struggling with security, company leaders also face the obstacle of finding a balance between security and enabling users to leverage their devices in a way that is effective for their jobs.
"All of this creates a very challenging scenario for security experts looking to lock down the devices that are used to access corporate networks and data," Dark Reading pointed out. "It's always difficult to find just the right security balance between user freedom and the safety of corporate assets, but the variability of endpoints – especially with the rise in the BYOD, or bring-your-own-device model – makes things especially difficult."
Top tips to combat endpoint security challenges
While endpoint security no doubt comes with its share of issues, it is a critical part of a company's protection infrastructure and must be addressed to prevent any attacks or data loss. In this spirit, there are a number of strategies organizations can leverage to balance security with usability and ensure that sensitive business information stays protected.
TechTarget noted that while perimeter defense approaches like firewalls are effective, onboard mobile device security is much more effective. This includes the use of mobile antivirus, anti-malware and anti-spyware programs that are not only utilized on a regular basis, but are also kept updated. If these protections are always up-to-date, devices are safeguarded against even the newest emerging threats.
Decision-makers should also have a policy in place governing employees' use of mobile devices, including what information they are allowed to access, what security protocols must be in place and what applications are permitted. The Ponemon Institute noted in their 2014 State of Endpoint Security Report that third-party apps are among the top data protection risks. Therefore, administrators should team up with IT employees to determine which programs are acceptable and will not pose a threat to sensitive data.
Company leaders should also set up specific protection levels and connected authentication credentials for each employee. This will offer added oversight of important materials, allowing decision-makers to see what content staff members are accessing via their handheld devices.
One of the best protection strategies is to leverage the solutions of a trusted firm like Trend Micro, which can provide multi-level security to guard against a range of malicious threats.