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Can VDI Save IT from BYOD Headaches?

With the demands of BYOD, VDI adoption is accelerating at a rapid pace.

There's no doubt, personal mobile devices have permanently, and in many cases positively, altered the workplace. They've given employees flexibility in terms of where, when and how they work, offered new ways to collaborate and even delivered cost savings for employers.

However, with the good comes the bad. There's no arguing, BYOD has made corporate data more vulnerable than ever before. From unsecured laptops to rogue employees who maliciously attack the network through their own devices, the challenges facing IT are immense. In fact, a recent study shows that the majority of businesses (79%), had a mobile security incident in the past year, including 16 percent who put the cost at more than $500,000. [1]

At risk is money, as well as brand reputation.

Institutional control is essential, but approaches like mobile device management (MDM) and other solutions have proven ineffective on their own because they are too heavy handed and end users find ways to work around them.

Organizations need something that's lightweight and unobtrusive to the end user, but powerful enough to meet the needs of IT. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) has been used for many years to manage desktops, and with the demands of BYOD, VDI adoption is accelerating at a rapid pace.

Bringing the Perimeter Back to the Data Center
has always had an inherent advantage when it comes to security. In virtualized desktop environments, all data remains exclusively and entirely within the data center. Users of virtualized desktops experience the same interaction with their data that they always have, but gain the flexibility of using their preferred devices. Personal tablets, phones, and laptops, are often used for business in today's modern workplace, so keeping the data managed and controlled by ensuring that no data flows across the network or resides on the end user's device is a critical feature. As a result, the scope of securing the enterprise narrows to securing the data center.  This is a much more manageable exercise for network managers and information security professionals than trying to manage data and devices

By moving to a virtual desktop infrastructure, organizations can greatly reduce the risk associated with BYOD while still allowing IT professionals to easily deploy, configure and manage the entire end user computing experience. VDI ensures tight security across the enterprise, regardless of device, addressing significant concerns such as: securing data at-rest; authentication, authorization and accounting (AAA); and compliance.

Benefit #1: Securing Data At-Rest
How often do we hear about a missing laptop - whether stolen or misplaced - putting data at risk? It's happened to hospitals, universities and even within our government. Inactive data, such as a document stored on a user's personal device and not currently in use, presents one of the most frustrating challenges for information security professionals. Regardless of how long it has been since the document was last used, it must be handled securely, with appropriate encryption and backup, while remaining readily available to the user.

One way to secure data at-rest is to keep it in the data center where it is physically secure and managed within a server-based computing solution. In virtualized desktop environments, users edit data via remote sessions. During the sessions, users see a visual representation of the applications and operating systems they are accustomed to using, however, the visual representation consists entirely of pixels - the data itself does not move over the network and is never stored on the endpoint device. With VDI, all data remains secure within the data center, removing the risks associated with data on-the-move - protecting corporate IP, customer and employee data and much more.

Benefit #2: Authentication, Authorization and Accounting (AAA)
Authentication, authorization and accounting, known as AAA, are critical criteria for securely controlling and monitoring access to a network and its resources. Desktop virtualization addresses each of these issues, providing network and security professionals with the ability to:

  • Verify a user's identity before allowing any access at all (authentication)
  • Determine exactly which devices, applications or networks a user can access
  • Track and record a user's activity on the network at a level that ensures non-repudiation

VDI controls user access down to the device level. Before a user can access data or applications using a mobile device, VDI requires data center or desktop authentication. That means upon connection, the user must authenticate via a directory - usually Active Directory or LDAP - and receive authorization before proceeding. This level of authentication is superior to PC-level security methods, in which a user who cannot successfully authenticate to a network presumably already has access to the physical device and its contents.

Authorization determines which devices, desktops, applications or networks a user can access. With desktop virtualization, network authorization is required even before a user connects to his or her personal desktop -- which is the same way authorization is handled with a BYOD device. Absolutely no information is viewable until the user has been given access to the network.

Once authentication and authorization are complete, accounting tracks and records the user's interaction with the network and the desktop cloud infrastructure at a granular level. Administrators can audit this information, filtering by specific users, events and networks as needed.

Benefit #3: Application and Regulatory Compliance
Desktop virtualization also addresses the new reality of licensing and regulatory compliance, essential security considerations for today's modern enterprise which now involves emerging technology IT has often never interacted with, various operating systems that are at times incompatible, and cloud-based applications. VDI removes the pain and makes compliance with licensing easy because IT provisions all user applications in a single desktop container per user. Network administrators can monitor and control which applications are in use, by what user, on which device, and whether the user has proper authorization and licenses for the applications.

In addition to auditing application use, many VDI solutions can also track and control data flow itself. This ensures that when users access network data - whether from a mobile phone or tablet -- they are doing so within the compliance policies and parameters set forth by the network manager.

It is important to note that the VDI solution can control both the data and the data paths themselves. With traditional device management, giving a user access to a network share on a physical PC results in data moving across the network to the endpoint, whether through a VPN or the public Internet. With a desktop virtualization container, by contrast, data never leaves the data center. The data moves from the data store to the application that is using it, but all movement takes place within the data center. This ensures a completely isolated and secure environment, especially when BYOD is involved.

That sort of complete control of the device, applications, data and networks is particularly critical in instances in which data and data flow require tight control to meet regulatory compliance laws such as HIPAA.

Desktop virtualization also offers the ability to separate auditing data, user data and system data throughout the data's lifecycle. IT can keep audit logs and backup media separated per security regulations, allowing different backups to different targets - an important part of the compliance lifecycle. Backup and control is simpler because everything remains under the system administrator's control, and in one physical location - not on the end user's mobile device.

BYOD is Growing, Ready to Explode
Let's face it, BYOD is here to stay. And its growth rate is skyrocketing. Industry analysts like Gartner consider BYOD "the most radical shift in enterprise client computing since the introduction of the PC," while other researchers expect the trend to grow by 15 percent annually over the next four years, reaching $181 billion by 2017 [2].

As the number of devices rises, so does the need for a comprehensive security strategy. One that doesn't just add heavy layers of management complexity, but instead tightens the perimeter without impacting the user experience. While a lot of technologies are trying to solve the challenge, my bet is on VDI.

For more information, download the whitepaper, How VDI Reduces the Risks of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

[1] http://www.checkpoint.com/press/2013/060513-check-point-reveals-mobile-security-incidents.html

[2] http://www.trainsignal.com/blog/enterprise-mobility-trends

More Stories By Jon Senger

As the chief strategy officer of Virtual Bridges, Jon Senger is responsible for shaping the company’s vision, identifying new market opportunities and enhancing the company’s competitive position. An expert technologist, Jon joins Virtual Bridges after spending the last six years at Dell where he served as an enterprise architect and core engineering lead, and finally leaving the company as the CTO of Emerging Technologies where he worked in the office of the CIO developing innovative strategies to support the company’s cloud computing, virtualization and BYOD programs.

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