The Security Challenges of BYOPC

Editor's note: this story was written by 1E's CEO Sumir Karayi for CSO.

The advent of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) was a revolution in the way that employees access corporate resources on their smartphones and tablets and, although initially resisted by IT departments, most organizations now allow employees to use their own smart devices for work. However, for most users, smartphones/tablets are purely consumption devices. For real work users revert to using their PCs, and in most organizations they will need to use Windows.

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However, with the mindset shift within the user base, they are now demanding to use the PC of their choice, often a Mac, leading to the next wave of BYOD, Bring Your Own PC (BYOPC). However, organizations are even more resistant to users working from and connecting company networks and resources from users’ own computers than they were about allowing personal mobile phone access to corporate resources.

Security is of utmost concern as organizations have built their Standard Operating Environment (SOE) PCs to comply with data security policies to ensure comprehensive protection against security threats and comply with legislation. This normally consists of specifying the operating environment, installing anti-virus software and other security related software to threats that could expose company sensitive data and restricting the applications that can be run on the device. For greater control and security, organizations often also encrypt company data at a file-level or for the entire hard disk, implement controls at the network layer in order to ensure that only SOE devices are permitted to connect to the corporate network and install software that enables a PC to be killed or wiped remotely in the event that the device is lost or the user is no longer trusted.

When it comes to an employee using his own computer for work, each one of these measures, which are standard in many organizations, presents a challenge. This is due to the fact that the PC is owned and managed by the individual rather than the organization. For many organizations these raise credible concerns over:

  • Security breaches including malware incidents
  • Regulatory and compliance concerns
  • Untrusted devices connecting to the companies’ servers
  • No easy way to kill access to company data while retaining the individual’s own data use of the PC for personal use

Additionally, organizations are generally cognizant of the need to update the operating system and applications with upgrades and patches as a key defense in preventing malware infection and preventing cyber attacks. Users are less aware of the need for this and rarely update applications and even less so the operating system itself.

For these reasons, many organizations simply do not trust employee owned PCs to be used for work, or to connect to the company network and other resources.

The solution lies in Client Hosted Virtual Desktops (CHVD). By leveraging CHVD, organizations can create Virtual PCs that meet the same requirements and are built to the same standards as physical SOE PCs, even providing improved endpoint security.

This allows for a Virtual SOE PC to be run on a user’s own Mac or PC, while taking advantage of the same security policies, procedures and tools. In this way a Virtual SOE PC introduces no additional threats or exposure over that of a physical SOE PC, in many ways CHVD is more secure than the physical PC equivalents:

  1. The client hypervisor isolates the virtual PC from the underlying host operating system. In providing such isolation, CHVD adds a layer of defense when compared with a traditional PC: An attacker targeting the host operating system must break additional defenses built into the hypervisor and guest OS before getting access.
  1. CHVD provides a standard corporate desktop that can be remotely activated and killed over the Internet immediately. These PCs can be securely wiped ensuring the protection of corporate information.
  1. Some CHVD solutions provide encryption of the entire virtual PC. Similar in concept to Full Disk Encryption for physical PCs, encrypting the entire virtual PC prevents access to the virtual PC and data while the user is not logged in.
  1. CHVD computers can be configured to prevent access to external media, such as USB drives and memory sticks. This is achieved via configuration of the hypervisor and eliminates the need to modify the BIOS or hardware or implement a HOST Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solution.
  1. As the virtual PC sits on the user’s own PC, use of the host’s browser for personal activities and the virtual PC’s browser for work related browsing will reduce the risk or virus and malware infection of the corporate PC.

Despite many concerns regarding the security of BYOPC, by utilizing CHVD organizations are finally able to accommodate BYOPC while actually increasing security at the endpoint.

This story, "The Security Challenges of BYOPC" was originally published by CSO.

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