Bring Your Own Network (BYON) … Seriously?

We are living in an era where the IT departments of businesses are still trying to fit in the Bring your Own Device or BYOD model in a secure arena. In our article on BYOD implementations, we talked of two possibilities: one where the employees use company owned devices and one where the organizations use employee owned devices. The security issues are more in the latter case where the employees may not agree to get things censored when they are not at office. So instead of the office network, they start using their own network. And they bring their own networks to the office as well. What effects would it have on the security of the companies? This article looks at what is Bring Your Own Network or BYON and how it affects the security of businesses?

BYON or Bring Your Own Network

What is Bring Your Own Network or BYON?

BYON stands for Bring Your Own Network. For saving on costs and in form of better employee perks, some organizations allow its employees to use their own network at the office place. The official networks and VPNs are generally designed in a way that people working in the organization and using those networks, cannot access certain websites that may hinder productivity. But in what seems to be a latest trend, startups and similar organizations are providing employees with no network or VPN. Instead, they pay up for the network the employee uses for connecting and using the Internet or Intranets. Or in some cases, both the local organizational network and employee’s data carrier is present.

The network of the organization can be used to access the data pertaining to that organization while the data carrier is used for anything on the Internet. If there is an intranet involved, the employee can use his own data carrier to log into it.

A third kind of network can also be envisioned here. A mobile device can be set up as a hot spot and other mobile devices connecting to the Internet or Intranet using this hotspot. As I write the article, I do not really understand the concept of BYON, as for me, it is a serious security issue rather than any kind of employee perks or savings for the organizations. It would be much better to let the employee use the organization network to browse what he or she wants instead of allowing them to use their cellular data or Internet dongle to access the Internet. At least, that way, the company secrets won’t be let out.

Security Risks of BYON

In a world where the Internet has become a hub for information seeking, many techniques exist and are being designed each day to “make” people give out their personal data. You know about phishing. You also know about social engineering. In case of phishing, criminals try to collect your personal data using different baits. In social engineering, the criminal befriends one or more of your employees and starts “extracting” data pertaining to your organization. That is, combined, both the methods – if any of your employees takes the bait – can prove disastrous to your organization.

Not only that, using cellular data for organizational work may provide another problem. There is no guarantee that the connection between your employee’s mobile device and the site he or she is visiting is encrypted. Without encryption, criminals can easily check out what data is being transmitted and how to use it for their own benefits. Once they land up on the Intranet where someone logged in using their cellular data without encryption, for instance, they may have given out their login credentials to someone snooping on your organization. With that, goes the privacy of your data to the extent the employee could access your database.

How can it be implemented – Make the Employee responsible

As of now, the only method different organizations are using to implement BYON are:

  1. Educate the employee about the risks of using own Internet connections
  2. Making the employee responsible for whatever data breach occurs

The second one is more of a threat to the employees of your organizations and they would prefer to use the company network. That means, you have to provide them with a local network they can use with their networks as long as they are in the office. They may use cellular networks – with care – for other works such as browsing during the free time.

In my opinion, the entire practice of BYOD is misplaced as it allows employees to take home organizational data. Add to it, if an organization allows usage of own networks to BYOD, the situation can blow up all the privacy of organizational data anytime. It is a bomb ticking and as evident from recent data breaches, a simple mistake on part of an employee can be a terrible loss for the entire organization.

Other Problems With BYON

Among the many other problems that come with Bring Your Own Network are that IT support cannot configure the employees’ networks; no employee would agree to that if it includes censoring some websites.

The IT support cannot troubleshoot issues with employees’ own networks as they may be related to different data carriers. For troubleshooting, the employee will have to call up the data service provider they are using. An option here could be to provide a single data carrier plan to all the employees but I do not know how feasible it would be. Almost everyone have their own favorites and hence some may not agree to change their network providers.

It would be hard to track which employee is using what resources on the company Intranet, if there is one. The liabilities of employees will be limited as there won’t be many foolproof methods that would let an admin know whose carelessness caused a data breach. The organization may have to plan out on this at length, before they go for BYON.

These are my own views on what is BYON, what are the security issues related, and how to implement it if required. I do not think BYON is needed unless you want your employee to play some online game in the office. But that is my own view.

I would be glad to know your views and hence, will be waiting for your comments.

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Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN

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