Just when you thought you had BYOD under control – enter the Life of BYON

An IT manager friend of mine recently reprimanded a young employee for spending up to 80% of his day surfing shopping and music sites from his desktop. This fact having come to light through web filter, firewall and bandwidth logs. Duly warned and with web filters having been tightened the employee went back to 'work'. Several weeks later a new notebook PC appeared on the employee’s desk, which also seemed to consume most of his attention throughout the day.
A quick check of the network showed no new systems on the network, so perhaps it was being used offline? Maybe so, if it wasn't for the fact that our manger then then spotted a new wireless connection he hadn't seen before in his wireless connection list. Yes you guessed it. Having been caught using the company network for his own purposes, our young scallywag had brought his own wireless hot spot to work and was using that to while away his time on YouTube, Facebook and eBay.

Like BYOD before it, the march of Bring-Your-Own-Network (BYON) is happening silently, stealthily and almost completely outside of management control. Nearly all modern smartphones and 3/4G tablets can be instantly turned into wireless hot spots allowing it and any other wireless-enabled systems within range to be connected to the web, whether out and about or at the workplace desk.

From an employee’s viewpoint this makes perfect sense. They may have been denied permission to connect their personal devices to the corporate network, or don’t want the hassle of seeking these approvals and have the company install special (MDM) control software on their personal devices. They will be aware that many sites like social media, betting and music download sites (i.e. the very places they want to go) are either blocked, or their use monitored. And besides, their brand new 4G tariff gives them a cool 12Mbps speed with all-you-can-eat data – which is probably not true of the clunky corporate LAN struggling to deliver even a tenth of that; assuming of course the firewall blocking allows you to view or download anything you are remotely interested in.

So what’s the problem with BYON? From a security and capacity perspective you might say, “better them doing it on their kit than mine”, or “at least it’s hardware and software I don’t need to provide support and capacity for”, but you’d be missing the point. Someone spending a large part of their workplace time pursuing personal interests represents a huge hit to productivity and the bottom line once you have enough people doing it. With the bigger issue being that you can’t readily detect, monitor or quantify it. These things also tend to become endemic in the workplace culture and hard to reverse after a very short time.

The situation also drives a coach and horses through any policies you might have regarding improper or illegal material being viewed in the workplace, as it bypasses any of the filters or logs you probably spent fortunes putting in place to avoid. Furthermore the assumption those personal WiFi hotspots are completely air-gapped from the corporate IT is a dangerously weak one. In that unless you have a tight lockdown on all your office PCs preventing their connection to unauthorised wireless points, backed up with DLP on everything to ensure files downloaded elsewhere cannot be transferred to any office systems; there is a real risk of bridging the secure enterprise network to insecure private ones at multiple points. Plus of course there’s the bigger risk that sensitive data will go the other way, by leaking out through the insecure access point or being carried out on an unprotected personal device.

So what to do about it? First and foremost check your security, staff and acceptable use policies are clear and unambiguous regarding the use of BYON and personal wireless hot spots in particular. In the above case of the employee using his own kit to surf the web all day; the BYOD policy written over a year prior made no mention of personal hot spots or their use. Consequently their use had run out of control before the issue came to management’s attention. Next carry out a business risk assessment involving the key risk stakeholders including HR, IT, and security to identify the risks in both scenarios of either permitting or banning the use of personal WiFi hot spots. If the organisation opts to allow their use, you’ll need to define the precise what, when and how of their acceptability and then enshrine it in corporate policy. If you opt to ban them, then work out how you are going to detect and respond to the exceptions which will occur. In all cases you’ll need to consider how to prevent any personal network connection, whether allowed or not, from circumventing your entire enterprise security infrastructure.