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Feature: The 8 biggest consumer IT threats

Popular but dangerous technologies at work

High-tech consumer products and services of all kinds are making their way into the workplace. They include everything from smartphones, voice-over-IP systems and flash memory sticks to virtual online worlds. And as people grow more accustomed to having their own personal technology at their beck and call - and in fact can't imagine functioning without it - the line between what they use for work and what they use for recreation is blurring.

In a recent survey of corporate users by Yankee Group, 86 percent of the 500 respondents said they had used at least one consumer technology in the workplace, for purposes related to both innovation and productivity.

Unfortunately, this trend poses problems. For one thing, the use of these technologies increases the risk of security breaches. Moreover, users expect IT to support these devices and services, especially once they interact with applications in the corporate environment.

But in many companies, it would be against corporate culture to simply ban the devices or to block employees from accessing consumer services. At the same time, companies can't depend wholly on policy to maintain the level of security they need.

"I don't know of any business where employees have the time to read and comprehend every single policy related to a computer in their environment - they're busy doing their jobs," said Sharon Finney, information security administrator at DeKalb Medical Center in DeKalb County, Georgia. "I consider it my responsibility to implement things that make security seamless, easy and completely in the background."

Others, like Michael Miller, vice president of security at US-based telecommunications services provider Global Crossing, wait until the devices or services affect productivity or otherwise cause a business problem, such as the security department battling worms or dealing with bandwidth issues. But no matter what companies decide to do, the response always involves a balance of enabling employee productivity, abiding by the corporate culture, not eating up too much of IT's own resources and ensuring a level of security that's right for the company.

"Consumerisation will be a nightmare for IT departments, creating maintenance and support problems that will swiftly overwhelm IT resources, unless they embrace new approaches to managing the rogue employees," said Josh Holbrook, an analyst at Yankee Group. Holbrook equates banning the use of consumer technologies in the workplace with "an endless game of whack-a-mole". At the same time, ignoring the adoption of such technologies would lead to a potentially hazardous mix of secured and unsecured applications within a corporate enterprise, he said. He proposes ceding control to end users via an internal customer care cooperative model. (See: Zen and the art of ceding control of consumer tech to end users.)

To help you decide how to respond, below we look at eight popular consumer technologies and services that have crept into the workplace and provide some insight into how companies are achieving the balance of security, productivity and sanity.

1. Instant messaging

People use instant messaging for everything from making sure their kids have a lift home from practice to communicating with co-workers and business partners. In the Yankee study, 40 percent of respondents said they use consumer IM technology at work. Instant messaging present numerous security challenges. Among other things, malware can enter a corporate network through external IM clients and IM users can send sensitive company data across insecure networks.


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