Personal tech raises security fears in the public sector

By Jan Duffy

Personal laptops, tablet PCs, or smart phones are showing up in ever increasing numbers. Although many public sector organizations still officially ban the use of personal devices to conduct official business, since many workplace devices are now only being replaced every six or seven years, it seems to make sense for staff to use the more up to date personal equipment they own, and are familiar with.

However it might also present an opportunity - increased productivity from using more sophisticated devices than issued at work, access to corporate data whenever and wherever with whatever device, there is the added risk of theft or device loss. Some of the worst data breaches have occurred as a result of technology being stolen from cars, left on trains and buses, etc., and this could become a more common occurrence if the devices are personal rather than employer owned.

Perhaps the most important and initial step is to do a thorough risk assessment - this could help to eliminate some of the risks. For example, highly confidential or classified documents or data sets that contain sensitive or personal information should never make their way to employee-owned equipment. This risk can be mitigated by limiting access and manipulations of data to those times when the device is attached to the network, i.e. in a security controlled environment and not allowing the corporate data to be stored on the personal device. Secondly, the impact of data loss needs to be assessed. What would the consequences of data loss be? At best it's inconvenient, worst case is enormous political embarrassment, citizen exposure to high risk consequences. Who needs to know if data is lost? What if the data isn't encrypted? Does the loss put the organization at risk of being sued?

Are the risks sufficiently severe that all use of personal devices should be banned? What actions are you taking?

Jan Duffy is a member of the IDC Smart Government Community, where this post was originally published.

Copyright 2012 IDC, all rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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