Navigating the balancing act: how to support user privacy whilst maintaining control of corporate-owned data

David Balazsy, vice president for APAC at Good Technology

It goes without saying that government surveillance news dominates our media. From a global standpoint, the NSA leaks brought international attention to state organised spying. Locally, the Australian Government has been making headlines over its plans to develop legislation that will allow it to more easily access metadata from large organisations and telecoms providers to gain information on the consumers using their services in a bid to prevent acts of terrorism.

Most recently, it was revealed by WikiLeaks that the NSW Police is using hacking software to spy on smartphones and computers during criminal investigations. Hence, it comes as no surprise that Australians are becoming increasingly concerned over their privacy. According to a study by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner late last year, more than 60 per cent of Australians have stopped engaging with companies over privacy concerns. This was up by 40 per cent since 2007.

Privacy and the enterprise

From an enterprise perspective, privacy can become an issue when an organisation allows employees to bring their own devices into the workplace. An obvious dilemma of this trend is that bringing devices into the working domain and using them for both professional and personal use, opens up company access to all the personal information stored on the device. The question remains as to whether employees will continue to tolerate this as the ‘cost’ of being able to use their preferred mobile device for work. Likewise, employees can also pose a risk to the organisation’s data through unintentional ways, such as use of third party apps or the opening of emails containing malware.

So what are enterprises doing to mitigate the risk? It is interesting to note that BYOD programs are still in high demand. In fact, Ovum predicts that enterprise mobility will continue to be one of the hottest topics in IT and high on the list of priorities for businesses this year . However, as this trend continues, no doubt many businesses will be exposed as underprepared to protect both their own and their employees’ privacy.

Why MDM alone is not the answer

Whilst it is inevitable for companies to gain access to their employees’ phones/tablets to install software, and connect to servers, etc., issues arise when companies use legacy mobile device management (MDM) technology. As the name suggests, this type of solution only manages the device itself. What it doesn’t do is distinguish data in a way that actually protects employee privacy. So whilst it might give employees the ability to freely access work files and documents, it also means the company has complete access to the device, including all personal communications, apps and photos.

In addition, as well as giving employers access to all of this data, via MDM, organisations also acquire the ability to wipe the device if they deem it to be compromised or at risk, such as if it is lost, stolen, or if an employment contract ends. This puts employees and their devices, and not to mention the information on them, in a vulnerable position.

The balancing act: protecting corporate data and personal information

It is obvious that information has value in many ways, be it intrinsic, business, performance, cost, economic, and market based. Whatever the business, data can have a number associated to it and the value of this data is rising, making it more imperative to manage it properly.

But asking employees to surrender their mobile device and everything on it in an attempt to keep corporate data secure is a step too far. There is a balancing act that companies need to perfect between preventing infringement of an employee’s right to privacy and protecting their corporate assets.

What is the solution?

As BYOD deployments continue to skyrocket, the right mobile solution will let employees keep control of their device and information. At the same time, it should keep businesses away from their personal data, whilst securing corporate data too.

The technical solution is actually quite simple: create a definite and impassable boundary between personal and corporate data. A secure container of corporate data, separated from the device owner’s personal and private content ensures that these boundaries are defined.

From a business perspective, corporate documents and information are protected. Access is granted to some or all of this information based on identity management policy. This protects the organisation’s own data, as well as protecting what matters most to employees, that is keeping their private information private.

Gaining employee trust

If employees don’t trust that the corporate BYOD program their company is running will safeguard their privacy, they will find a way around it. Hence, it is in a business’s best interest to firstly, take the required steps to protect user privacy rights, and secondly, communicate these standards to employees to encourage adoption of secure mobile tools amongst the workforce.

By making it clear that the mobile strategy is secure for employees to use, businesses will gain the confidence of staff, who might otherwise fear the vulnerability of their data.

It is paramount that organisations incorporate a user privacy policy into their secure enterprise mobility strategy and take the necessary steps to invest in the right secure mobility solution.