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Is Android Safe for the Enterprise? Blog (2/28/2013)

One thing is for sure, the mobile revolution is upon the corporate world, whether we want it or not. The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 changed everything for the enterprise world. Before that we were all comfortable with our little BlackBerries that did little more than email and text message.

The iPhone isn’t the only force in the mobile world anymore. In fact many users are flocking to Android because it is cheaper and more flexible. This means that as an IT helpdesk administrator you need be aware of the pros and cons of bringing Android into your support system and your business. Is Android safe for your enterprise?

BYOB and Android
Because there is such a plethora of Android devices on the market, it makes supporting Android one of the toughest things the IT department has to do. Every manufacturer does something different and is on a different upgrade cycle.

To enhance that point, Android 2.3 was released in 2010, and it is still the version that is on over 50% of Android smartphones. Since then there have been 8 major versions of Android released by Google. Because every version of Android is different, the support protocols for each version is different. Yikes~ This makes supporting Android hell for a lot of IT departments.

This fragmentation is what makes Android security a big problem for business. Even if your BYOD policy specifies which phones and versions of Android are allowed, the security measures that need to be taken for each version are different. This means your support software needs to support ever version that you plan on allowing.

Fragmentation isn’t the only problem
The Android landscape is a mess because of the choices that it allows. Security is always easier when the ecosystem is locked down, like it is in the iPhone world. As with any open source operating system that is purely uncontrolled, malicious developers can spread their poison with less resistance than they can on a controlled platform.

For business this means constant regulation, special (and expensive) software applications, and constant and vigilant training of employees on what is proper. For the most part the iPhone is a give-and-go device, because you simply tell the employee not to lose it and to put a lock code on it, and they will be pretty safe. With Android you have to worry about all the extra things that are possible that aren’t possible on the iPhone. Things like being able to install non-market apps, for instance. Granted this functionality is turned off by default, but it is very easy for someone who is trying to customize their phone to make a mistake and download malicious code instead.

Another worry is that the Google Play marketplace isn’t as security conscious as the iPhone AppStore. There are stories about once a week of users downloading an app that is actually malware or virus-ware, that sends out contact information or is a secret key-logger. These are apps that are from the “okay” place.

Is it worth it?
With all the worry, what’s the future of Android in Enterprise? There are companies out there that are trying to make Android more secure. From MDM software companies that make it possible to lock down the ability to download apps, to things like Samsung’s SAFE line of devies that lock down the Play store, camera, wireless and off the ability for IT departments to remotely remove applications.

That is the hurdle for Android. Where there are tons of ways to control the iPhone and Apple helps with their own enterprise software, Android phones require a ton of help to make them safe for the Enterprise. Is the work and monetary effort worth it? What is the benefit to allowing Android in the enterprise?

Companies are starting to warm to the BYOD movement. If they really want to allow that, they can either be really strict with their device policies or really lax. If your company wants to give your workers the most choice of phones, software and carriers, then Android is the way to go. You’ll garner the love of your workers, but the hatred of your IT department. If, on the other hand, you want to spend less on MDM software, less on devices, and less on training, you will want to avoid Android all together.

If you work in the IT department and management wants to study the impact of bringing Android into the fold, your report needs to be clear on the costs of managing Android to make it secure enough for enterprise use.
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