BYOD security monitoring is not the norm

Study finds 62 percent of federal security pros lack systems for tracking government data on personal smartphones.

More than 82 percent of federal computer security professionals have policies for safeguarding government data on employees’ personal smartphones -- but most have no idea whether those policies are being followed every day, according to new research.

The findings of the survey by cybersecurity compliance firm nCircle suggest that many agencies are embracing the concept of bring-your-own-device, or BYOD, for office work. Yet they are sacrificing data protection to make that happen. While government-owned electronics use “continuous monitoring” -- or near-real-time reporting of security status through sensors and other automated tools -- the technology to track personal devices doesn’t quite exist in the government yet, the study revealed.

The protective policies that most security professionals are enforcing likely are more basic, such as training employees on proper connectivity settings and requiring personnel to notify the agency of the type of phone they are using, said Keren Cummins, nCircle's director of federal markets.

“You can have a configuration policy for what those devices are supposed to look like and you can enforce that policy by sitting down” with an employee, she said. “But that’s far short of continuously monitoring what’s on the device on a day-to-day basis.”

About 90 percent of participants who had BYOD security policies said they were enforcing them, according to the study released Thursday. Enforcement for personal devices probably involves simply spot checking security posture and other periodic oversight, Cummins said. Only 62 percent of respondents said they have a strategy for conducting continuous monitoring.

“Part of the issue is our standards have gone up,” Cummins said. Continuous monitoring became a requirement less than three years ago. “If you look at the mobile device arena, it’s very complex. You have five or six different operating systems that you need to monitor,” she added. Each brand has widely different approaches to encrypting data and verifying user identities.

To gather insights, nCircle surveyed online and interviewed more than 100 government security workers, including risk and audit managers, senior executives and contractors. The study was conducted between April and July.