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Diverse mobile devices changing security paradigm

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MANAGING ACROSS PLATFORMS
IT departments can also turn to cross-platform mobile device managers to enhance security. Cross-platform managers typically push a proprietary agent onto each device, letting them be configured, secured and monitored without depending on native mobile OS capabilities.

Cross-platform management is an in-house requirement and revenue source for Stratapult, a technical services group owned by Inmar and based in North Carolina. Jeff Pack, senior manager of remote systems management, has managed mobiles with Afaria from Sybase iAnywhere for 15 years. "Five years ago, all we saw were Pocket PCs," says Pack. "Now we have Windows Mobile phones and handheld computers like the iPhone. People are asking me to manage all of these devices because they can't restrict their users."

To meet in-house needs, Pack must support 700 Inmar employees who carry laptops, ruggedized tablets, Windows PDAs and smartphones, and BlackBerries. For the past eight years, Stratapult has also delivered mobile systems management, security, database and secure email services to customers like Godiva, Liz Claiborne and the U.S. Navy.

"Depending on what a customer is trying to do, we have a hosted model and turnkey services. We can set up a separate system and let them manage their own day-to-day devices, or we can deploy

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policies and continue managing them," explains Pack. "Either way, we use over-the-air deployment to install the Afaria client and push policy on first connection."

Pack has seen a wide variety of mobile security policies, but most customers require power-on passwords and disabling of lost, stolen or decommissioned devices."If the user fails to log in a number of times or hasn't synchronized for a given period, we can set a time bomb," says Pack. "For companies using field applications, they need to redeploy those devices efficiently, so that data isn't carried over from one user to another."

However, Pack sees reluctance to remotely kill employee-owned devices. "The justification for managing [employee-owned phones] can be tough. If you're using corporate email there, you have a legitimate argument to encrypt data," he says. "But in terms of doing a kill pill, no one's going there. If an executive owns the device, the ability to kill it is mostly an insurance policy."

Cross-platform management can be challenging. For example, Pack cannot yet manage iPhones. Nonetheless, Stratapult prefers to manage diverse devices instead of relying on thin clients. "We have customers without full-time connectivity in the mountains of Georgia. Here in this building, we have copper-coated windows that interfere with coverage. Some organizations can live with thin clients, but that approach it too limited for us [and our customers]," he says.

This was first published in November 2008

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