Managing the Remote and Mobile Workforce

By | September 7, 2006

What is the biggest obstacle to the widespread adoption of remote and mobile computing in businesses worldwide today? According to a recent survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit (sponsored by Symantec), security concerns head the list. The survey found that more than 60 percent of companies are holding back on deployment because of security concerns. Close to 47 percent of respondents cited cost and complexity as a major obstacle to deployment. Moreover, nearly one in five businesses has already experienced financial loss due to attacks via mobile platforms.

This article looks at the primary issues that continue to impede the adoption of mobile technology in the workplace. It then proposes steps enterprises can take to genuinely manage mobile technology, and thus leverage it as a competitive advantage.

Threats are on the rise

The most recent Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, published in March, sheds light on some of the specific threats to today´s mobile devices. The Report found that malicious code targeting mobile devices, particularly smart phones, continued to grow through the second half of 2005. (Smart phones are mobile phones that contain a fully fledged operating system with a wide variety of user-installable software.) It also described several new examples of malicious code for smart phones, including Cardtrp, which was the first cross-platform threat with the ability to affect both Symbian and Windows operating systems. In addition, the end of 2005 saw the emergence of Pbstealer, which is distributed as a file that poses as a phone book utility for smart phones in order to entice a user to download and execute it.

Once a device has been compromised by one of these Trojan horses, information such as the user´s phonebook, notepad, calendar, and to-do list can be transmitted to Bluetooth-enabled devices that are within range. This may pose a serious breach of confidentiality, as sensitive contact information and appointments could be shared. According to the Threat Report, the risks connected with mobile data will increase as larger mobile networks become a more attractive target for cyber-criminals.

In addition, some of today´s more complex worms and viruses, known as “blended threats,” specifically target clients that roam outside the corporate infrastructure. Nimda, Code Red, SQLSlammer, and Blaster are examples of blended threats that hijacked mobile clients to gain unauthorized access to a corporate network via an external Internet connection.

Additional management challenges

Of course, security isn´t the only concern when it comes to remote and mobile clients. One of the biggest challenges organizations face in managing, controlling, and securing these systems is that they don´t maintain persistent connections. Days or weeks might pass before a remote or mobile client connects to the corporate network. And when the client finally does connect, there´s no guarantee it will be a quality connection. Limited bandwidth, unreliable service, and frequent disconnected states all have the potential to create havoc for organizations trying to manage those systems, especially in relation to the following activities:

Software distribution and patch management Scheduling software distribution or patch management tasks to occur automatically after-hours might work for the desktop systems in an organization, but those packages won´t reach any of the mobile or remote clients not physically connected during the scheduled deployment.

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