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BYOD Security Best Practices

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies allow employees to use their personal phones, tablets, and laptops for work functions. BYOD is gaining popularity because employees prefer to use the devices they’re familiar with and already have on hand. Employers appreciate BYOD because it saves money and time. Although this flexibility offers many advantages, it introduces security risks that can leave companies vulnerable to data breaches, unauthorized access, and other cyber threats. Implementing strong BYOD security measures can protect both corporate and personal information. This guide will cover best practices for BYOD security to mitigate risks. These security practices allow businesses to implement and maintain a secure BYOD framework that aligns with their organizational goals.

10 BYOD Security Best Practices

Over 95% of organizations allow employees to use personal devices for work, so BYOD security is a widespread concern. Learn more about BYOD security risks. Combined with remote work, BYOD dramatically increases the attack surfaces and endpoints available to bad actors. Zero trust is the most effective approach to cybersecurity for both dispersed and on-site companies. A zero-trust approach assumes that systems will be breached and designs security practices accordingly. The following BYOD security best practices include zero-trust and other industry-standard measures to protect corporate data regardless of how it’s accessed. 

1. Authenticate Device

Device authentication verifies the identity of the device attempting to connect to the corporate network so only approved devices gain access. Combining multiple authentication methods tailors the security measures to fit the unique needs and risks associated with an organization’s BYOD policy.

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

MFA combines two or more independent credentials: something the user knows (password), something the user has (security token or phone), or something the user is (biometric verification like a fingerprint). By requiring multiple forms of verification, MFA makes it significantly harder for unauthorized users to access the network, even if one of the authentication factors gets compromised.

Certificate-Based Authentication

Instead of relying solely on passwords, opt for digital certificates issued by a trusted Certificate Authority (CA). These certificates confirm that a specific device and its user are who they claim to be, making it significantly more difficult for attackers to impersonate a device.

Time-Based Access

Set time restrictions for device authentication, allowing devices to connect to the network only during specified hours or for the time needed to complete a task. This minimizes the window of opportunity for any unauthorized access attempts.

Geofencing

Geofencing involves setting up geographical boundaries within which devices can connect to the network. Access is denied if a device attempts to connect from outside these designated areas, and an alert is sent to the IT department.

Behavioral Biometrics

Some advanced authentication systems analyze user behavior, such as typing speed or the way a user holds their device, to verify the user’s identity continuously. This type of authentication can detect unauthorized users even after the initial login.

Device Trust Score

A “trust score” can be calculated in more sophisticated setups based on a device’s history, installed applications, and other metrics. If the device’s trust score falls below a certain threshold, it might be subjected to additional verification or denied access.

2. Use a VPN

When employees connect their devices to a VPN, it creates an encrypted tunnel between them and a secure server. All data passing through this tunnel is encrypted, making it nearly impossible for unauthorized parties to intercept or decipher the information. Here are some important aspects to consider when incorporating VPN usage into a BYOD policy:

Data Encryption

One of the primary benefits of using a VPN is strong encryption. VPNs use algorithms such as the advanced algorithm system (AES) to scramble data. AES-256 uses the same key to encrypt and decrypt data. It’s the gold standard in encryption because it’s unbreakable by brute force. 

IP Masking

A VPN hides the actual IP address of the device, replacing it with the IP address of the VPN server. This provides an added layer of anonymity, making it more challenging for hackers to target a specific device or user.

Secure Remote Access

For remote workers or those who travel frequently, a VPN is crucial. It enables them to securely access the corporate network from anywhere, be it a coffee shop or an airport lounge, without exposing the network to potential threats.

3. Regularly Update Software

Regular software updates safeguard both individual devices and the broader corporate network. When users ignore these updates, they inadvertently expose their devices to a wide range of security risks, including data breaches and unauthorized access.

Vulnerabilities and Cybercriminal Exploits

Outdated software is a lucrative target for cybercriminals. They can exploit known vulnerabilities often disclosed in security advisories to gain unauthorized access to both the device and, potentially, the corporate network. Ensuring that all devices connected to the network are up-to-date minimizes this risk.

Role of IT Departments

In a BYOD setting, IT departments should actively monitor the software versions on all devices connected to the corporate network. Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions can track software versions and notify users or IT staff when an update is available. Some MDM solutions can even automatically push updates to registered devices.

Compatibility Testing

Not all software updates can be blindly trusted. Before mass adoption, each update should be tested for compatibility with the existing corporate network and software ecosystem. This ensures that new updates don’t inadvertently break any existing functionalities or compromise security measures.

4. Implement Remote Wiping

Remote wipe capability is a feature that allows the IT department or device owner to erase all data from a device remotely. In cases where a device is lost, stolen, or otherwise compromised, activating a remote wipe can remove sensitive data and prevent unauthorized access to the corporate network.

Types of Remote Wipes

There are generally two types of remote wipes: full wipe and selective wipe. A full wipe erases all data, including both corporate and personal information, and restores the device to factory settings. A selective wipe, on the other hand, only removes company data, leaving personal files and settings untouched. The choice between these methods often depends on the nature of the risk and the organization’s BYOD policy.

Setting up Remote Wipe

Many MDM solutions offer remote wipe capabilities as part of their suite of services. Once a device is enrolled in the MDM system, it can be remotely wiped by the IT department if needed. Some operating systems and cloud services also offer built-in remote wipe features that the end user can configure.

User Consent and Legal Considerations

Organizations need clear policies around remote wipe capabilities, which should be agreed upon by both the employer and the employee. Failure to do so can lead to legal complications. The policy should explicitly state the circumstances under which a remote wipe would be executed and what types of data would be affected.

5. Encrypt Data 

Data encryption converts readable data into a coded form, making it unintelligible to anyone who doesn’t possess the correct key to decode it. In a BYOD setting, data encryption is one of the most effective ways to secure sensitive information stored on or transmitted from personal devices.

Types of Data Encryption

Two main types of data encryption exist: symmetric and asymmetric. Symmetric encryption uses the same key for both encryption and decryption. Asymmetric encryption, also known as public-key cryptography, uses two keys: a public key for encryption and a private key for decryption. Each approach has its advantages and drawbacks, and the choice often depends on the specific needs of the organization and the types of data being secured. 

Encryption in Transit and at Rest

Data can be encrypted in two main states: in transit and at rest. Encrypting data in transit protects it as it moves between devices or servers, often over the internet. This can be achieved through secure protocols like HTTPS, SSL, or TLS. Encrypting data at rest ensures that the data stored on a device or server is encrypted, making it unreadable without the correct encryption key.

6. Segment the Network

Network segmentation divides a computer network into smaller, isolated segments or subnets. Each segment operates independently and serves a specific purpose or group of users. The primary goal is to improve security and performance by controlling network traffic flow and limiting access to resources. This is especially critical in a BYOD environment, where various devices with different levels of trustworthiness connect to the corporate network.

Isolated Access

In a BYOD scenario, employees use personal devices to access company resources, which can introduce numerous security vulnerabilities. Network segmentation effectively mitigates these risks by isolating the BYOD traffic from the main corporate network. This means that even if a personal device is compromised, the attacker would have a harder time accessing sensitive parts of the network.

Types of Network Segmentation

  • VLAN (Virtual Local Area Network): This is a commonly used method to create logically segmented networks within a physical network. Different VLANs can have different security policies applied to them.
  • Subnetting: Similar to VLANs, subnetting divides a network into smaller parts but does so at the IP address level.
  • Firewall-based segmentation: Here, firewalls control the traffic between network segments, allowing or blocking data packets based on security rules.
  • SDN (Software-Defined Networking): This offers fine-grained control over network resources and can dynamically adjust network segmentation policies based on real-time conditions.

Implementation Considerations

Before implementing network segmentation, an organization needs to map out its network resources, identifying which assets need to be isolated and what the access policies for each segment should be. A poorly planned network segmentation can lead to operational inefficiencies or even create new security vulnerabilities.

7. Formalize a Device Approval Process

The device approval process is a structured procedure for vetting and authorizing personal devices to connect to a corporate network, particularly within a BYOD framework. This process is the entry point for determining whether a device meets the necessary security criteria, ensuring it won’t become a liability once connected to the network.

Stages of the Device Approval Process

  • Submission and inventory: Employees submit the details of their personal devices, including make, model, and operating system, to the IT department. The department then maintains an inventory of submitted devices.
  • Security assessment: IT professionals conduct a thorough review of the device’s security features, checking for updated software, encryption capabilities, and other security measures like biometric authentication.
  • Policy agreement: Before approval, the device owner must read and agree to the organization’s BYOD policy, which outlines the responsibilities and expectations for both parties.
  • Device enrollment: After approval, the device gets enrolled in a Mobile Device Management system. This enables the IT department to monitor the device and enforce security policies remotely.
  • Final audit and approval: The IT department conducts a final audit to confirm that the device complies with all security requirements and policies. Once the device passes this audit, it receives approval for network access.

8. Educate Employees

Often, the human factor is the weakest link in the security chain. Educating employees about best practices and potential threats empowers them to actively participate in an organization’s security posture, rather than becoming potential vulnerabilities.

Core Elements of User Education and Training

User education typically covers a variety of topics that range from basic to advanced:
  • Password management: Employees learn the importance of strong, unique passwords and how to manage them through tools like password managers.
  • Phishing awareness: Training often includes simulations of phishing attacks to teach employees how to recognize and respond to them.
  • Safe browsing habits: Users are taught to identify secure websites, recognize suspicious URLs, and understand the risks associated with unsecured public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Data handling and sharing: Education focuses on the correct procedures for handling and transmitting sensitive information, including encrypted communications.
  • Software updates: Employees are trained on keeping software up-to-date as a preventative measure against security vulnerabilities.

Frequency and Modes of Training

Effective user education is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. Organizations often conduct periodic refresher courses, send out regular security bulletins, and use interactive e-learning modules to keep the workforce informed. Some also employ gamified training platforms to make the learning process more engaging.

Metrics and Assessment

To gauge the effectiveness of user education programs, organizations can use metrics such as quiz scores, engagement rates, and real-world simulations like staged phishing attacks. These assessments offer valuable insights into areas where further training might be needed.

9. Establish an Acceptable Use Policy

An Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) is a formal document that outlines the rules and guidelines for appropriate usage of an organization’s IT resources, including computers, networks, and internet access. The policy defines what is considered “acceptable” and “unacceptable” behavior, protecting the organization and its employees from legal repercussions and security risks. 

Core Components of an Acceptable Use Policy

An AUP typically covers several key areas.
  • Scope: Defines who is subject to the policy, which often includes employees, contractors, and guests who use the organization’s network.
  • Usage limitations: Describes the kind of activities deemed appropriate or inappropriate. This can include stipulations against using organizational resources for illegal activities, harassment, or personal financial gain. It should also include any restrictions on downloading unsanctioned apps. 
  • Security measures: Lays out the security protocols that users must adhere to, such as password complexity rules, encryption requirements, and multi-factor authentication.
  • Monitoring: States the organization’s rights to monitor network usage for compliance with the AUP and other security considerations.
  • Consequences for violation: Details the repercussions for failing to adhere to the policy, ranging from verbal warnings to termination of employment or legal action.

Legal and Regulatory Aspects

An AUP often serves as a legal safeguard, providing the organization with a basis for taking disciplinary action in cases where network resources are misused. In some industries, having a clearly articulated AUP is mandatory for compliance with regulations like HIPAA (in healthcare) or SOX (in the financial sector).

User Acknowledgment and Training

For an AUP to be effective, it’s not enough to simply have it documented. Employees must be aware of the policy, understand it, and formally acknowledge that they have read and agreed to abide by it. Many organizations integrate this acknowledgment into their onboarding process and offer training sessions to ensure employees understand the nuances of the policy.

10. Conduct Regular Audits and Monitoring

Regular audits and monitoring refer to the systematic examination and real-time surveillance of an organization’s IT infrastructure, respectively. Audits provide periodic, in-depth evaluations of compliance with policies, vulnerabilities, and risk management strategies, while monitoring involves continuous oversight of network activity. Both are foundational components of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.

Components of Regular Audits

Audits generally include: 
  • Compliance checks: Audits evaluate whether the organization meets industry standards or regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS), or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
  • Security assessment: Inspections of firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and other security measures to identify potential vulnerabilities.
  • Data protection: Verification that sensitive data is stored and transmitted securely, often through methods like encryption.
  • User behavior: Review of user activity logs to detect any unusual or risky behavior that could indicate a security threat.
  • Policy enforcement: Assessment of adherence to internal policies, including Acceptable Use Policies and BYOD guidelines.

Elements of Continuous Monitoring

Continuous monitoring includes: 
  • Real-time alerts: Automated systems notify administrators about suspicious activities such as multiple failed login attempts or unauthorized data access.
  • Traffic analysis: Continuous scrutiny of data packets moving across the network to spot anomalies that could signify an attack.
  • Performance metrics: Monitoring tools can track network performance to identify issues like bottlenecks or downtime, which, while not necessarily security-related, can impact operations.
  • Software updates: Oversight to ensure all software and applications are up-to-date, reducing exposure to known vulnerabilities.

Tools and Technologies

Various tools, such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and specialized auditing software, facilitate regular audits and monitoring. Choosing the right set of tools often depends on the specific needs and size of the organization.

Benefits of Regular Audits and Monitoring

The benefits of regular audits and monitoring include: 
  • Proactive risk management: Regular inspections and continuous oversight enable an organization to identify and address risks before they escalate into major issues.
  • Compliance: Ongoing audits ensure that the organization remains compliant with industry regulations, helping to avoid legal repercussions and financial penalties.
  • Operational efficiency: Monitoring can also provide insights into network performance, helping optimize resource use.

Venn’s BYOD Security Solution

BYOD policies provide benefits to businesses and employees. However, with this convenience comes an increased exposure to cybersecurity risks. Managing the risks and protecting corporate and personal data privacy on various devices and operating systems can be challenging. Venn simplifies BYOD security by segmenting access to company data and applications within employees’ devices. When Venn software is installed, all business functions are secured by systems that meet the most up-to-date regulatory compliance guidelines. Instead of monitoring and protecting every aspect of every employee’s device, the IT department only has to secure and monitor the company applications.  In addition to protecting business data, this siloing also protects employee privacy. Learn more by downloading the CIO’s Guide to BYO-PC. Reach out today for a free demo

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