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By Don Tennant
May 30, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - At a seminar last week in San Francisco on the impact of mobility on business, I asked for a show of hands to see how many of the attendees' companies have a policy governing the use of personal devices. Of the roughly 50 people in the audience, four raised their hands.
No one in the room, including me, was surprised. The lack of such policies in corporations is well documented. But what did surprise me was the depth and universality of frustration that IT pros are feeling with respect to trying to manage mobile devices.
One CIO talked about how he's bummed that vendors haven't done a better job of standardizing cell phone and handheld wares; another wondered how to devise a sustainable support model. And then there's the issue they're all fretting over, probably more than any other: security. Between lost data and the proliferation of spam and viruses targeting these devices, the threat seems to be overwhelming many CIOs.
The hand-wringing over security is only going to get worse, because personal devices are only going to get more ubiquitous. And as if cell phones and handhelds weren't enough to contend with, MP3 players are quickly being added to the cache of productivity arms in your users' arsenals.
That disquieting fact was underscored last week when Apple Computer's Steve Jobs said his company will support and organize podcasts -- downloadable audio files, typically of voice programming -- in the next versions of its iTunes and iPod software. The announcement didn't raise too many security alarms, but think about it. Podcasting is a convenient, inexpensive, reliable means of disseminating information to a global workforce. It's already gaining popularity as a vehicle for sharing the proceedings of meetings and conferences, and it's easy to imagine how it might be used for corporate training and vertical applications like distributing lecture materials in the education sector.
What that means is that MP3 players will eventually be standard equipment for your users. And when that time comes, the capacity for corporate data loss will be almost incomprehensible. Your networks and devices might be bulletproof, but there will be nothing to mitigate the insider security threat when your organization is inundated with what are essentially portable hard drives with exponentially growing storage capacities.
Fortunately, for many organizations there will be a silver lining in all this, because they'll no longer have to deal with the headache of supporting a PC on every desktop. Concern about the damage these devices can do will be the catalyst that finally makes server-based, thin-client computingcompelling enough for many CIOs to bite the bullet and make the switch.
Just last week, Hitachi cited security as the main reason for a plan to replace 16,000 internal PCs with thin clients over the next two years . True, Hitachi is in the business of selling thin-client systems, and its move is similar to what Sun Microsystems has done with the internal adoption of its Sun Ray thin clients.
There's unquestionably a marketing element involved, but it would be shortsighted to chalk the strategies up to gimmickry. These guys are on to something.
Don Tennant
Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. You can contact him at

Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.

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