Many of us have all heard of the acronyms BYO (bring your own), BYOW (bring your own wine) or BYOB (bring your own booze). It’s where an unlicensed restaurant allows you to bring your own wine, sprits, cider or beer for no charge or for a small corkage cost.

Similarly, within many IT environments there is now a tendency to allow employees to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Many organisations allow their workers to bring their own PCs, smartphones, USB hard drives, laptops and tablets. This policy has been around for some time but the term is relatively new.

When looking at the pros and cons of bringing your own booze to a restaurant, we see it does no real damage to the restaurant. The customer may end up drunk but as long as they used public transport or got a taxi to get home no real lasting harm would have been done – luckily hangovers subside! However, BYOD has far greater consequences when we look at its possible security and compliance risks.

As data is the bread of butter of a company and we hope it is secured, monitored, audited and kept firmly within the four walls of its office – however, it’s clear that through the BYOD policy this is now being compromised.

Many company workers’ use reasonably cheap devices which have a large storage capacity are easy to use and unfortunately have little security. Thousands of internal company confidential documents can be copied in minutes to someone’s USB flash drive. Documents might be copied innocently or maliciously. Although many employees just taking a document home to work on it during their evening, some may have the intent purpose to steal and sell important or incriminating documents to sell to the press or a rival company. Whatever the purpose this creates multiple security and compliance problems. Documents are now dotted around, unsecured, unmonitored, audited and possibly not within the UK or EU.

There are also other security risks to consider. When a staff member leaves their place of employment he or she may not have taken the time to delete or remove important documents. People lose their phones, iPods or USB all the time. This causes all sorts of security risks, can break the UK Data Protection Act and break client confidentiality. A USB flash drive lost on the train can find its way into the wrong hands, generating negative PR, fines and lost customers.

The Data Protection Act states data which is transit (i.e a USB device, laptop or CD) should be encrypted. It also states it is preferable to store data within the UK or EU. With modern home working and ‘hot desking’ it is not always possible for data carried by staff to always comply with these rules. So what are the possible solutions?

Create a policy telling staff not to plug in their own devices – very flawed
This is for the lazy company who doesn’t want to invest in time, software or money at examining security risks. This option is very flawed as it’s very likely someone will ignore or forget this policy – hey presto you have a data leak.

Simply block all USB drives and CD/DVD drives – for the paranoid
In theory this is a great idea as no one can plug anything in and therefore data cannot be extracted. However, it reduces productivity and flexibility and is therefore not conducive to modern working.

Automated port blocking and encryption software – good security
This option permits devices and allows data to be copied out but forcibly encrypted files (or folders) automatically. Be careful with this option since if it is not configured properly it can ‘brick’ certain devices like iPods or smart phones. This option allows monitoring, audit but possibly the removal, blocking and deletion of data.

Give everyone a hardware encrypted USB flash drive – partly flawed
Hardware encrypted USB flash drives offer strong security but are sometimes expensive. It’s only a matter of time before someone plugs in an unsecured devices, takes data and again hey presto a data breach.

Automated port blocking and hardware encrypted USB flash drives – ultra security
This is possibly the best option, although it is a little inflexible. All unsecured devices are blocked and only use secure devices. Automated port blocking software can block and permit devices by model, make or serial number. One major disadvantage is some hardware encrypted USB flash drives cost up to £400 – not great for the company’s budget if you lose one.