Data security in a mobile-centric world: Finding the right balance

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From email threads stretching over months to faster-than-lightening instant messaging apps and platforms, enterprise communication tools have come a long way in the last few years. The ability to send instant messages has transformed the enterprise communications landscape, offering collaboration, real-time communication, high-tech security, global communications and a variety of other innovative features.

However, while there are huge business benefits to employees communicating in real-time via instant messages, there are some concerns that businesses need to mitigate. The pitfalls of messaging apps have recently been highlighted, with security, or lack thereof, raising concerns for businesses. For example, a London-based banker was recently fired and fined more than £37,000 by the FCA for leaking confidential business data via WhatsApp, a story that got wide attention across UK news channels.

This incident brings public attention to the threat of security breaches and data leaks on company premises, with messaging tools right at the centre of some of the biggest cyber mishaps. It’s becoming ever clearer that companies need to protect themselves from both hackers and careless employees. But with the growing use of messaging apps in the UK and globally, is it reasonable or even possible to ban these tools from workplaces to keep a check on cyber theft?

I was 18 when I co-founded my first technology company, and speaking from my breadth of experience as a technology entrepreneur, it is clear that the world has completely embraced the BYOD culture. BYOD allows businesses to reduce costs and gives employees the flexibility to work from wherever they choose using their own devices. For fast moving teams spread across geographies, it will become increasingly difficult to restrict messaging apps and the use of employees’ own devices.

Where the responsibility lies

Whilst one hot security topic is malware, there is also a need to talk about digital systems (such as phones, tablets and computers as well as software) and ensure that companies are using trusted systems.

Of course, with the variety of free messaging services available to businesses today, security needs to be amongst the top priorities when considering what service to choose. An enterprise messaging app should adhere to enterprise level data security, with administrator controls as well as multi-device management (MDM) support. As more organisations embrace the bring your own device (BYOD) culture, it is probable that business communication apps will become the most commonly used form of business communication, as employees need to collaborate with their colleagues on-the-go and need a virtual way to have informal conversations. Businesses can also ensure that they select a platform which provides BCP (business continuity process) when they sign up via the cloud, meaning that most data can be easily secured and recovered if devices are lost or damaged.

MDM and the way forward

As new technologies develop, it is likely that new security threats will too. However, business efforts should be channelled into embracing technologies that let businesses manage mobile devices and messaging apps, rather than banning them completely. Companies need to pay attention to the administration of the mobile devices of their employees, which they can do using MDM systems. By doing so, they can ensure that their employees can access important data, whilst putting in place the necessary security measures.

Using MDM, companies can safely learn how to segregate their corporate data, secure emails and other corporate documents, and integrate and manage all mobile devices used in the workplace.

Having MDM in place ensures that business leaders can pay attention to the exchange of information in the workplace. A basic messaging app such as WhatsApp can be replaced with a more secure enterprise messaging tool. This has already proved popular with many companies – in fact, the global MDM market will grow to USD 5.15 billion from about USD 1.35 billion by the end of 2021, according to Zion Market Research.

There is also a paramount need to understand that employees play a large part in their organisation’s security, as humans are the most vulnerable component of a business security strategy. There is no fail-safe solution to this, and employee training will not suffice to eliminate the threat, but being aware and savvy about this is paramount and a step in the right direction to ensuring that business data is kept secure.

The need for a safe and secure enterprise messaging tool

The decision makers in the company should ensure that they adopt an all-encompassing, safe and secure platform where teams can not only collaborate, but do so without posing a security risk.

For instance, Flock’s teams and channels come with a dedicated control for admins. Team admins can control who can or cannot join a particular team, including blocking external domains. They can also decide who can invite people to join the team - such as only admins or any member. Under file sharing restrictions, team admins can manage file sharing permissions for users, including file type and size. Channel admins can also delete any message and add or remove other admins.

Key takeaways: Keeping employee messages secure

While there are many factors to consider when it comes to data protection when employees are using online messaging tools in the workplace, there are many measures businesses can take to ensure sensitive data is as secure as possible. A multi-pronged approach is the surest way to safeguard the privacy and security of confidential business data.

The most important principle is that the chosen communications app should meet the required standards of data encryption, data security, secure app design and access to user data – and this is a decision which IT decision makers should not be taking lightly.

Lastly, it’s important to educate employees about the repercussions of a data leak. By ensuring that employees understand the severity of the consequences of a data leak, businesses minimise the risk of employee carelessness around sensitive data.

Bhavin Turakhia, Founder and CEO, Flock
Image source: Shutterstock/alexskopje