Protect iPad data without hobbling users

Symantec plans to enable its data loss prevention server to work with iPads (even using iCloud) and, eventually, Android devices

Concerned about sensitive corporate data that lives on employees' iPads finding their way to places they shouldn't? Symantec says it has an answer to that risk, and it won't get in users' way. In early 2012, it plans to deliver an extension to its data loss prevention (DLP) product that enables DLP filtering from the iPad or, more precisely, from files, emails, and any other communication sent via HTTP and HTTPS from an iPad through the network.

It's clear that security vendors are hoping to capitalize on ongoing fears about iPads, iPhones, and other mobile devices now entering the workplace in the hands of employees rather than through IT. Multiple surveys recently showed that the "bring your own" approach is now the norm at businesses large and small.

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In 2010, mobile device management (MDM) tools helped IT realize it could secure such devices without abridging the dual business/personal use of those devices. Next came fears over mobile application management (MAM), but those IT fears haven't translated much into security offerings as yet, perhaps because figuring out how to get into each application -- especially on platforms such as iOS that firewall apps from outside intrusion as a security measure to reduce malware's damage potential -- is very hard.

Now, security vendors are looking to protect the data itself. Last week, Zenprise announced a SharePoint client for the iPad that extends SharePoint policies to documents stored in the Zenprise iPad client (Microsoft has no such client) -- but only in that client. And MobileIron announced last week an API for iOS apps that let its MDM tool manage the content in apps that use the API; iOS app developers such as GoodReader and say they'll implement the MobileIron technology when it exits beta next year.

Symantec is about to enter the fray, with a more traditional DLP approach. Rather than deal with data piecemeal on the iPad, it focuses on the communications coming from the iPad, filtering them for violations of the company's data-access and data-sharing rules as specified in the DLP server. Thus, no matter what apps a user has on the iPad, any data sent from the iPad over the network is scanned and filtered -- the same goes with data sent from PCs using the same DLP server. Symantec plans to release the iPad extension to its DLP product in early 2012, charging a monthly license fee for each iPad user (the price tag will be based on the number of seats).

Symantec's DLP product does require installation of an iPad app that redirects all HTTP- and HTTPS-based traffic (email from any account, cloud storage, Web, app-based FTP, and -- top of mind for IT these days -- iCloud) leaving the iPad to the enterprise's DLP server, essentially forcing it to go through the DLP server as a proxy server before heading out to its intended destination. That also means that data sent from any Internet-connected location is filtered, such as at employees' homes or hotels.

Data transferred directly to a computer over a wireless LAN, such as at home, using an "air-sharing app" is not filtered; that and local syncing via iTunes remain as potential data leakage avenues. Symantec says those who use HTTP or HTTPS should be filtered by its DLP tool, but those using other protocols would not.

If the shipping app works as promised, employees won't be restricted to using just certain apps -- unlike other data protection approaches on or coming to the market -- so IT can assure that sensitive data is not being inappropriately shared.

When pressed, Symantec's product marketing vice president Robert Hamilton confirmed the product should also work with iPhones and iPod Touches, as they use the same iOS as the iPad. For now, Symantec plans to guarantee and support only iPad usage, which Hamilton says is where enterprise customers claim they're concerned. An Android version is planned for some time in 2012.

This article, "Protect iPad data without hobbling users," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in business technology news and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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