What is mobile device management (MDM)?
While employees have taken to the post-pandemic trend of utilizing their own digital devices in the workplace, the risks inherent to any bring your own device (BYOD) policy have led to a need for mobile device management (MDM) solutions.
Organizations use MDM software to monitor and secure employees' remote devices, such as:
Securing such devices is important: Security and data breaches, on a global average, cost $4.35 million in 2022; MDM tools are therefore foundational to any secure modern digital workplace.
Let’s go over how MDM works, and how you can get the best out of your MDM security architecture.
The evolution of mobile device management (and EMM)
Mobile device management has had to keep pace with both the changing, decentralized nature of the workforce and the sophisticated and ever-shifting threats cybercriminals continually develop. One particular realm of MDM professionals focus on is enterprise mobile management (EMM).
EMM is about securing corporate data on both employee-owned and company-issued devices. This aligns nicely with employees’ anywhere-and-everywhere remote and hybrid work preferences while offering necessary device protection.
iPhone remote support continues to be important. Earlier EMM solutions, however, were device-focused at the expense of content and app security. That is changing: today’s EMM protocols more holistically serve an increasingly mobile digital workplace.
EMM servers today feature management overlay options aimed at OS-specific mobile devices. IT security professionals deliver mobile device support using EMM suites. They can do so remotely without trampling a company’s security policy.
EMM suites offer the following:
- App inventory
- Hardware inventory
- Mobile app deployment and configuration
- OS configuration management
- Policy and content management
- Remote troubleshooting, including remote locking and wiping
Before we go further, let’s clarify some key MDM terms.
Key MDM terms and definitions
- BYOD is when employees connect their own private digital devices to a secure workplace network.
- Content access offers support for back-end programs (such as SharePoint and Documentum), geography-based download restrictions, and login and download tracking.
- Mobile application management brings EMM to bear on device functionality. Some devices don’t offer such functionality. There are two dimensions of mobile application management:
1. Preconfigured applications manage well-secured personal information and include a third-party-provided secure browser.
2. Application extensions involve using a development kit (SDK) to apply security policies to apps.
- Mobile content management grants users permission and ability to access secure corporate files via their private mobile devices. This dimension of EMM breaks down into three components:
1. Secure container: This is an app that allows clients to securely store content on their devices. The EMM server can then develop security policies regarding authentication and download permissions. Content is drawn from: a) employee email b) internally-shared content, and c) any back-end repository accessing sensitive content.
2. Content push: This allows IT professionals to manage document versions and histories, and flag them when they’re about to go out-of-date.
3. Remote monitoring and management (RMM): This software helps IT professionals monitor remote client nodes and networks remotely.
Components of an MDM strategy
Some key components of an effective MDM strategy include:
- Mobile device inventory: This involves identifying all mobile devices that are authorized to access company resources, such as email, apps, and data. This can be done using an MDM solution that allows IT teams to track and manage devices from a central console.
- Device enrollment: This involves registering each mobile device with the MDM system and assigning appropriate security policies and configurations. This can be done through various methods, such as using MDM software, or EMM tools.
- Security policies: This involves defining and implementing policies and procedures to secure mobile devices and the data they access. This can include enforcing password policies, encrypting data, configuring network settings, and setting up remote wipe capabilities in case of lost or stolen devices.
- App management: This involves managing applications installed on mobile devices. It may also include the ability to blacklist certain apps that pose security risks.
- Content management: This involves managing the content that is accessed and shared on mobile devices, such as documents, files, and multimedia. This can include setting up access controls, restricting certain types of content, and managing storage capacity.
- Device monitoring: This involves monitoring the use of mobile devices to detect any security threats or policy violations. This can include tracking device usage, identifying unusual activity, and responding to security incidents in a timely manner.
- Mobile expense management: This involves managing the costs associated with mobile devices and their usage, such as data usage, roaming charges, and device upgrades. This can include setting up cost controls, tracking expenses, and negotiating better contracts with service providers.
An effective MDM strategy allows IT teams to perform remote workforce management without interfering in day-to-day employee operations.
Why businesses need MDM
The fact is that a company with multiple remote nodes —especially if its employees aren’t adequately trained in cybersecurity measures — is less secure than a geographically-concentrated one.
A sobering fact to consider on top of that: The Federal Communications Commission has even called cellphone theft an “epidemic.” Mobile device security challenges are, therefore, likely more of a “when” than an “if” proposition. Establishing MDM protocols now will prepare you to more quickly respond to attacks when they happen.
BYOD policy and MDM
There are many tangible benefits of BYOD, including:
- Reduced equipment cost
- Increased employee efficiency and satisfaction
- Reduced office space square footage (should workers transition off-site)
- A decreased IT staff burden since employees will maintain their own equipment
But, as is the case with anything, accompanying these benefits are concomitant risks. Foreign, employee-owned devices are security risks, plain and simple.
At least PCs and laptops tend to come with built-in malware and virus protection. Smartphones and tablets, not so much.
Recent trends in cybercrime have seen hackers go after workers’ remote devices because they are, generally speaking, less secure.
It is nearly impossible to enforce a ban on these devices, but there are options for businesses on a tight budget to maintain security.
Best practices for MDM
Here are some MDM best practices:
- Establish clear policies: Develop clear policies regarding mobile device use in the workplace. These include guidelines for device security, acceptable use, and data management.
- Enforce strong passwords: Require employees to use strong passwords and passcodes to secure their devices. Enforce regular password changes to further enhance security.
- Regularly update software: Keep all mobile devices up to date with the latest software updates and patches. These help prevent security vulnerabilities and ensure optimal performance.
- Backup important data: Encourage employees to back up important data regularly, either to cloud storage or a secure server. This minimizes the risk of data loss in case of device damage or theft.
- Monitor device usage: Monitor employee device usage and enforce policies for unauthorized use. Policies can involve restricting access to certain apps or websites or limiting data usage.
- Provide training: Provide employees with training on how to use mobile devices safely and effectively in the workplace. Include guidelines for secure Wi-Fi use and avoiding phishing attacks.
- Choose the right MDM solution: Evaluate different MDM solutions based on your client’s needs and requirements. Look for features such as device enrollment, remote wipe, and app management.
What to look for in an MDM solution
MDM solutions vary from one organization to another. There are certain essential criteria, however:
- A cloud-based system so updates are automatic and painless
- Fully managed, 24/7 monitoring
- Remote configuration and monitoring
- Passwords, blacklists, and other security policies enforcement
- Passcode enforcement/remote data wiping to prevent unauthorized access to devices
- Geofencing to restrict access to specific data and applications based on location
- Backup/restore functionality
- Logging/reporting for compliance purposes
- Jailbreaking and rooting alerts for users attempting to bypass restrictions
- Remote disconnection or disabling of unauthorized devices and applications
But it’s not all down to an a la carte list of preferred features. You must be realistic. Consider a real-life scenario like the following when evaluating an MDM policy:
An employee is terminated; what happens to their device under company BYOD policy?
- Is access simply shut off to corporate systems?
- What happens to saved or cached data on their device? Is it ignored, or is business data wiped?
- How is business data separated from a user’s personal data?
Before choosing any MDM solution, these policies must be set in place. There are also additional factors to consider.
Cloud services and infrastructure are ever more popular. However, many organizations are still opting to have systems running in their own data centers. This has given rise MDM solutions for on-site, cloud, and hybrid options. Take these preferences into account as you consider the best fit for your organization.
For every shift, pivot, and change in the industry, MDM solutions are constantly updated, revised, and enhanced. It’s important to have a good understanding of where MDM trends are headed, and to think about your organization’s current and future needs.
An MDM solution needs to be able to integrate with existing security and management controls and workflows. Most organizations have already made significant investments in this area, making this an easier lift. The right MDM solution will enhance both security and efficiency, allowing an admin to control and monitor systems from a single access point.
MDM, BYOD, and the future of remote access
Many businesses are only just becoming aware of the burgeoning BYOD trend and the necessity of protecting employees’ mobile devices against cyber threats. Large corporations and small- and medium-sized businesses alike need a MDM policy.
Employee-owned mobile device usage is now a permanent part of the workplace. You can help clients develop a plan to manage such devices before misuse or appropriation wreaks havoc on their digital security.
Every business has different data-management needs, so it's important that IT teams offer flexible and customizable MDM solutions. To see how mobile device support can help your techs solve technical issues fast, start your free ConnectWise ScreenConnect trial today.