Afraid of BYOD? Intel shows a better way

Intel does more than manage user devices: It embraces and actively invites them in

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Intel is setting up Wi-Fi networks for personal use in parallel to its internal Wi-Fi networks. Personal devices not granted BYOD access can still connect to the Internet at the office but not commingle with business traffic or access business resources.

But Intel's main focus is not on device-level tools -- rather, it's on the information. "You have to think about the data primarily," Stevenson says. The best way to ensure that information is not misused is to control its access in the first place, regardless of the devices. To this end, Intel has adopted the notion of trust zones.

A trust zone is essentially a classification for information access. As CIO, Stevenson has the highest level of information accessibility -- essentially, trust -- so she can access information in any of the three zones when she's in Intel's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters or other trusted environment. But if she connects from, say, a hotel overseas, she loses access to the top trust zone's information because she is connecting from a lower trust zone -- despite her credentials. And the top trust zone's information is simply not made available to some devices. "[The information management system] dynamically adjusts user access and monitoring based on user privileges, data, application, device type, and location," she says.

That approach limits access to sensitive information before it gets to a smartphone, tablet, Mac, PC, or whatever. After all, even a trusted device could be safe or unsafe depending on what connections it uses. That upfront limit removes many concerns over what happens to information once it reaches a device -- it only gets there if the device, context, and user are all trusted.

Stevenson notes the tools exist to manage information this way across the new breeds of user technologies, though they are fairly new and not that familiar to IT. There's also an upfront deployment cost, and the hassle of the tools being highly fragmented by not just operating system but even OS version.

This fragmentation is not just in devices. For example, you can buy consumer apps that have embedded information security controls that work with one cloud storage service or one MDM tool, but not others. Stevenson wishes the tools were more unified at least within each platform, and ultimately she'd like to see the tools work across all platforms. Until then, it means more work and initial expense for IT -- a barrier she says colleagues at other companies frequently cite.

But Stevenson says it was easy to justify that investment, given the proven benefits outweighed the costs by a factor of three to one. And the users who want the freedom of technology are the ones who ultimately have to approve the investment.

Make profits, not war
It's easy to think about user technology and information security in a binary way. Many IT pros tend to view them as a choice between chaos and control. Users tend to think of it as a choice between productivity and red tape, and users' power to cut the red tape has increased remarkably in recent years. At many companies, this is devolving into a war between users and IT.

Progressive companies such as Intel show that the war is unnecessary. You can have some technology freedom while protecting information security. You can have standard practices while enabling personal preferences. You can make more money for your company by trusting and enabling your employees to use their brains.

Just ask Kim Stevenson.

This article, "Afraid of BYOD? Intel shows a better way," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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