When I talk to IT pros about the proliferation of user technology, aka consumerization, it doesn't take long before the subject of remote wipe comes up. It's become almost a checklist item in any company that supports BYOD and increasingly for those who supply mobile devices. After all, regardless of who buys the device, it may contain corporate secrets that need to be kept away from prying eyes. As OS X Lion and Windows 8 bring remote-wipe capabilities to desktop computers, I'm sure we'll see IT begin to apply it to employees' home and work PCs as well.
But too many in IT are overly eager to pull the remote-wipe trigger. It's a serious weapon, the equivalent of a neutron bomb being set off in an iPad, iPhone, Android device, Mac, or -- with third-party tools today and a new OS this fall -- Windows PC. Like any tool with such overwhelming capabilities, it should be used with caution.
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As a cautionary tale, consider what happened to Mimecast CEO Peter Bauer, as related by my Network World colleague Colin Neagle: When on vacation, his young daughter tried to use his iPhone but didn't know its password. After several failed log-in attempts, the iPhone wiped itself, per the BYOD policies Bauer himself put in place and that his mobile device management (MDM) tool applied. Poof! Gone were all the vacation photos for that trip, as they had not been backed up -- nor could they have been -- to his computer back home. Apple's iCloud service would have saved his photos, but only if he enabled it and had Wi-Fi access or was willing to eat into his data plan for cellular backup -- and if his MDM policies didn't block its use.
It didn't have to be that way.