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Posts Tagged ‘Bring Your Own Device’

The Dock Returns: Anticipating Trends for Productivity Potential

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017


Samsung’s March 2017 announcement that its flagship smartphone would support first-party peripheral that makes the device work like a desktop computer could mean big changes for how people look at their productivity devices.

While this is not the first attempt to treat a smartphone as a computer substitute, it is the first time a market shipment leader put its weight behind the concept.

Business and IT professionals should watch these trends closely, because new ways of looking at existing technological mainstays may offer incredible opportunities to increase productivity.

A Note on Convergence

Samsung’s dock is another indication that the smartphone, tablet, laptop, and desktop device classes are gravitating towards convergence. Tablets and smartphones overlap each other in use and functionality: In many cases, you would not be able to tell the difference between a large smartphone and a small tablet outside of the ability to make phone calls.

Galaxy S8 Dex Dock

The Samsung Dex allows any Galaxy S8 user to connect the device to a charging dock that augments the smartphone with a desktop monitor over HDMI and USB peripherals. When connected to the dock, the Galaxy S8 display switches to a more computer-esque interface, making the phone function like a “fake desktop.” This is excellent for business continuity for three reasons:

  1. Employees can take a highly portable device with them anywhere they go, which can be plugged into a dock when available to function as a primary productivity device. It’s easier to carry a phone around than a laptop.
  2. Employees will no longer need to use a dedicated workstation. This means employees can easily relocate their main device.
  3. Sharing a desk workstation will be much simpler. Instead of requiring a centralized server and individual login credentials, employees can simply plug in their mobile device.

Similar third-party devices exist for laptop augmentation, such as the Mirabook, which works for both Android and Windows 10 devices. If these docks add support for multiple devices including multiple operating systems, this platform could be incredibly useful for businesses.

The Motorola Atrix Legacy

Businesses have been working on expanding smartphone capabilities to emulate what a traditional computer can do almost as long as the smartphone and tablet device classes have been popular. The Motorola Atrix, released in late 2011, is the first well-known example of turning a smartphone into a netbook. However, earlier takes on the convergence concept didn’t perform well because of high costs ($300-$500 for the Atrix compared to $150 for the Dex) and missing functionality.

Nintendo Switch Dock

The Nintendo Switch, released in March 2017, is a tablet-like device that connects to a dock to work like a traditional console on a TV. With the system selling well, the Switch will serve as the first tablet-like device millions of people have in their homes that works with a dock. “Living room infiltration” can make the public more comfortable with the dock concept, which could lead more people to try docks with other devices. The Nintendo Switch could do for docks what the Playstation 2 did for DVD video.

Even without the dock, the tablet and smartphone industry is pushing towards convergence. For example, Apple is selling the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement device with reasonable success. However, backup and disaster recovery will be more important than ever with docks—mostly because smartphones are easier to break and to lose than desktop computers.

Our IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help your business look into technology opportunities like the Dex dock. Contact us today.

Water-Resistant Smartphones Are Here: What You Need to Know

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016


Water-resistance probably isn’t on the feature checklist for your employee smartphones—but judging by how many of these devices meet an untimely end via liquid damage, it should be.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that dropping the device is the number one cause of smartphone damage at 30 percent; however, liquid damage makes up a substantial 18 percent.

Your business can purchase a range of affordable fitted bumpers, cases, and screen protectors as a line of defense, but waterproof cases like this one are much more expensive and bulky.

It’s “Water-Resistant,” Not “Waterproof”

First and foremost, keep in mind that water-resistant smartphones are not waterproof. If you throw the phone in the ocean or a 12-foot-deep wave pool and leave it there for a few hours, it’s going to break. These devices are built to survive the accidental drop in the bathtub or dinner table spill. Water-resistant devices also have different performance ratings. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S7 can survive being submerged under five feet of water for half an hour.

Why Go Water-resistant?

Water-resistant smartphones can help increase productivity by allowing employees more free use of their devices by lessening water-resistant concerns. For example, an employee with a water-resistant phone will have no qualms about answering a call in the rain. Many smartphones also suffer water damage from sweat seeping in during a workout—not a problem with water-resistant devices. Additionally, a versatile phone can help reduce downtime, data loss, and replacement costs when it continues to function even after being dropped in a pool, submerged in spilled beer, or soaked in a bag in the rain.

Current and Upcoming Models

The water-resistant phone is not an especially new concept; the Sony Xperia Z released in early 2013 is considered the first slim-designed water-resistant smartphone. As of mid-2016, CNET recommends the following water-resistant phones:

  • Samsung Galaxy S7 (Edge and Active)
  • Sony Xperia X Performance
  • Motorola Moto G4

While the iPhone 6S doesn’t have a “water-resistant” designation, Engadget reports that the device holds up surprisingly well against liquid damage, even when being submerged. CNN found that while a dunk test still broke the iPhone 6S, it held up for much longer than the iPhone 5. Additionally, ZDNet reports that the iPhone 6S can alert the user if the lightning port is wet, which hints at future water-resistance.

Your business’s smartphone needs can vary, and depending on partnerships, you may be limited to specific devices on a single carrier. IT consulting services can help find the right water-resistant phones for your staff’s needs. Contact us today for more information on how you can keep the rain from coming down on your smartphone parade.

Are Your Smartphones Properly “Containerized”?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016


Earlier today the cashier at the local drive-thru miskeyed the amount of cash I gave him into his register. Somewhat sheepishly, he asked if I had a smartphone so I could verify the correct amount of change. Fortunately, I never leave home without it.

In fact, how well could you function today without your smartphone? It’s more than a telephone, camera, or calculator. It’s really a miniaturized computer—with most of the capabilities of a desktop or laptop. For better or worse, it’s a device we’ve come to rely upon.

A Mobile World

The mobility of smartphones has likewise made them indispensable work tools. Once upon a time, professionals carried a company-issued “work phone” along with their personal cell phone.

But today, given a choice, most would rather access work-related data from a single device in their pockets. This creates unique issues, however:

  • How safe is confidential company data on an unsecured mobile device? If it’s lost or stolen, what are the consequences? And how many of the countless downloadable user apps stealthily require permission to access—or even modify—other properties of the phone?
  • By the same token, users are reluctant to link their company network with the same device they use for private activities—personal email, music, photos, or their online dating profile.

How many companies wrestle with defining security of their employees’ access between business and personal data via their smartphones? This is a very important facet of a comprehensive BYOD (bring-your-own-device) policyas we’ve already talked about.

Containerization = Safety and Privacy

The answer for smartphones revolves around what has been termed containerization—creating a virtual partition between business and personal applications within a single device. When switched to a containerized “business mode,” all inbound/outbound network traffic is automatically secured via supplemental authentication, advanced 240-bit encryption, and other measures which block out unauthorized apps—or malware.

If the phone is lost or stolen—or the employee leaves the company—network access from that device can be remotely severed in a flash. Meanwhile, the user can toggle their phone back into conventional Android or iOS smartphone mode, assuring their personal apps and files remain private and “unsnoopable” by Big Brother (or at least their boss).

Containerization is a fairly new buzzword in mobile security, but there’s already a slew of vendors hopping on the bandwagon and offering a wide range of turnkey products. Which options offer the right protection and the best bang-for-the-buck? As usual with IT decisions, finding the right solution can be daunting—but we have the expertise to help. To learn more about containerization and more of the latest developments in IT security, talk with us.

iPhone “Backdoor”? It Already Exists! Why Your Company Needs It

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

iphone-926235_640February’s big story in the tech world was the conflict between Apple and the FBI over the creation of a “backdoor” to retrieve encrypted data on iPhones. The government is looking for any clue as to what—or, more specifically, who—motivated Syed Farook, along with his wife, to gun down his San Bernardino co-workers at an office party. Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook, along with other high-profile tech leaders, warn that the existence of such an “anti-encryption key” could become a slippery slope—ultimately threatening individual privacy as well as the security of all virtually-protected data, personal or business.

Apple steadfastly refuses to comply with the FBI’s court order, and the battle is likely to reach the Supreme Court. And if the Court’s pivotal ninth seat remains unfilled due to political gridlock, the whole issue could remain undecided for quite awhile.

Finding the Facts

In the midst of this landmark security vs. privacy brouhaha, one key fact of the case is being underreported: The iPhone 5c the FBI wants to unlock was Farook’s business phone, issued to him by the San Bernardino County Health Department. He destroyed his personal phone—which he most likely used to actually discuss the terror plot—before the couple’s fatal shootout with police.

How could this highly-vocal Apple-FBI standoff have been averted in the first place? By using an encryption backdoor that already exists—completely legal, and, for businesses, absolutely necessary: mobile device management (MDM) software.

MDM allows users to enjoy the same mobile productivity—apps, email, documents, file-sharing—that they’d expect from an onsite network, while enabling IT administrators to ensure every device remains compliant with company security standards (configuration settings, updated security patches, and limiting unauthorized use of the device).

More importantly in this case, MDM can, if necessary, bypass a security passcode to regain access to the company-issued device. Ironically, San Bernardino County had already contracted with an MDM vendor, but simply hadn’t gotten around to installing the software on mobile equipment in Farook’s department, due mainly to the lack of a formal MDM implementation policy.

Your MDM Solution? Choose Wisely

As mobile computing and BYOD become increasingly common in the modern workplace, MDM is essential for every company. You’ll find products from a slew of vendors, large and small, at competitive prices, but here are some key points to look for:

  • Ease-of-use (look for free trials of MDM products)
  • Full compatibility with both iOS and Android platforms
  • Functionality across multiple devices and wireless carriers
  • Seamless integration of all company-used apps (email, data, SaaS)
  • Pricing structure (per device or flat rate)

Choosing the right MDM solution—and effectively implementing it across your organization—is another IT challenge facing your company today. We can help.

Macs Are Here to Stay. How Well Are You Managing Them?

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015


Before you take your teenage kids to see the new Steve Jobs biopic, ask them what Jobs’ first successful product was. Don’t be surprised if they answer “the iPod”! For most of their generation, the original Macintosh is ancient history.

Today’s Mac computers don’t command prime Apple Store floor space dominated by trendy gadgets like iPhones and the Apple Watch. But decades after Microsoft was generally crowned victor of the landmark “Windows-Mac war,” Macs still hold a solid 17% share of the desktop computer market.

The powerful top-end Mac desktops are widely preferred by graphic designers and other “creatives,” while the sleek MacBook is a popular BYOD choice among users for whom the premium price tag is no big deal—from top executives on down.

Does Your IT Team “Speak Mac”?

While Apple devotees insist on sticking to Macs in their workplace wherever possible, many IT departments actually have a hard time managing them within their company networks—simply because they’re not Mac experts. Their day-to-day “comfort zone” revolves around Windows-based systems, from server-level architecture to standard software. The Macintosh operating system, Apple’s OS X, is a completely different language from Windows, requiring different skills and expertise. It’s literally a case of apples vs. oranges.

Mac Security: The Weakest Link?

In this age of relentless hacking and cybercrime, IT managers deploy every defense they can find, from anti-virus software to heavy-duty firewalls. But when they’re generally less familiar with Macs and OS X, how safe is the overall network?

A recent study released by identity management software maker Centrify uncovered some startling statistics regarding “unmanaged” Macs:

  • While 65% of Macs in the workplace regularly access “sensitive or regulated customer information,” only 35% utilized any type of data encryption methods—including simply activating the FileVault option which is built into OS X.
  • Over half have no software enforcing strong hack-resistant passwords.
  • 72% of Apple devices (Macs plus iPhones) used for work-related activities have no company-supplied device management software whatsoever.

At the same time, cyber-threats specifically targeting Mac OS X are on the rise.newly released report by security firm Bit9 + Carbon Black reveals that strains of OS X malware detected in 2015 have rocketed to five times the number recorded in the past five years combined. Meanwhile, Patrick Wardle, director of research at another security company, Synack, just delivered a widely publicized presentation at the Virus Bulletin 2015 conference in Prague detailing major vulnerabilities in Gatekeeper, OS X’s built-in frontline defense against trojans and other attacks. Once Gatekeeper is compromised, a Mac is a sitting duck for malicious hackers everywhere.

How many of your employees prefer Macs, and how do they affect the efficiency and security of your company network? Share your concerns with us here.

Mobile Security Exploits: Surviving the BYOD Environment

Thursday, November 19th, 2015


IT professionals are more concerned than ever about malicious software infections since smart mobile devices hit the mainstream. Many businesses have been relatively open to the idea of integrating smart devices into their workflow as a way to increase productivity. But news headlines have been quick to cover the many significant security exploits of the last few years. The most troubling part, perhaps, is the period of months or years that some of these security holes existed before anyone noticed.

BYOD, by nature, eliminates a level of control that IT departments are accustomed to having when protecting employee devices.

These devices often store saved passwords and even confidential company information—and, if compromised, can provoke an expensive disaster. Working with a managed service provider can help your business develop comprehensive best practices for mobile device security.


Android’s Stagefright is an example of an exploit affecting 900 million devices that can completely compromise security control. This particular hack uses Multimedia Messaging Service text messaging to upload malicious code and take over a device. A hacker that succeeds in controlling the device has access to everything on it—including confidential emails and financial accounts.

Google has put in the work to solve this issue, but it won’t do users any good unless they can install the patch. The three-tier Google to manufacturer to service provider patch approval and implementation process can delay updates for months.

You can confirm whether a specific device is vulnerable using one of the many Stagefright detector apps in the Play store, including this one by Lookout Mobile Security. If you find that your device is vulnerable to the hack, you can protect yourself by disabling MMS auto downloading in the Messaging app options. While it’s inconvenient to approve each MMS that comes through to your device, you can ignore messages from unrecognized numbers (which will make it very difficult to compromise the device).

Samsung SwiftKey

Samsung’s SwiftKey app implementation exploit also received substantial attention in the press over the 600 million vulnerable devices. This security hole allows a hacker to exploit the device update functionality within the SwiftKey app so they can upload custom firmware and take over. Samsung integrated the SwiftKey app into the phone’s software so it can’t be deleted to block the exploit. Samsung has updated their software to patch this hole—but, as with Stagefright, it is up to the carriers to push the update to impacted devices.

Fortunately, there’s an IT consulting tip that can minimize your exposure odds to the SwiftKey exploit: Do not update your device when connected to a public Wi-Fi network. The exploit actually requires that the hacker and the device be connected to the same compromised public Wi-Fi network to activate. Additionally, the device user would need to manually confirm that they want to apply the update for the hack to work, so simply refusing all updates while connected to public Wi-Fi at restaurants and stores will protect you.

iOS Exploits Exist

While Google’s Android operating system seems to take most of the heat for mobile device exploits, iOS devices don’t get off scot-free. In May 2015, hackers discovered a text message code that could be used to force iOS devices to crash and reboot when reading the message. Some devices were stuck in an annoying reboot loop. While not a security issue, this exploit could be a major productivity killer, rendering the device temporarily unusable. Apple was able to quickly patch this exploit, and updating the iOS device eliminated the issue.

Apple’s strict app approval process has done a fantastic job of keeping malware out of the App Store. However, in September 2015, hackers were able to sneak malware past the App Store approval process by supplying unsuspecting app developers with compromised code. Fortunately, Apple was able to identify and remove the affected apps before they became a widespread issue.

Working with an MSP is a great way to help protect your employees’ BYOD devices. In an ideal world, every device would be impervious to malicious attacks. But the next best option is to learn best practices to protect you from common attacks.

What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You: The Dangers of Shadow IT

Friday, September 18th, 2015


Last spring, Hillary Clinton received a barrage of criticism after it was revealed that she used a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State—seemingly at odds with government security protocols, if not federal laws. Clinton would go on to publicly dismiss the controversy, saying she simply preferred the convenience of carrying a single mobile device for her government and personal email accounts.

We’ll leave speculation about Clinton’s IT motives to other forums. But everyone can agree the Hillary email controversy is a perfect example of what is commonly termed shadow IT: employees and departments acquiring and using devices, software, or online services to solve a specific business need, without their IT department’s guidance, approval, or even knowledge.

BYOD Gone Bad

Think of shadow IT as the dark side of BYOD, which we discussed last time. With so much intuitive technology available to the consumer market (from mobile gadgets to Cloud-based apps), it’s easy for the not-so-tech-savvy to think they’ve stumbled upon an easier way to get their work done. The only problem is that when IT administrators are left “out of the loop,” unchecked shadow IT can open the door to multiple risks—from improper software licensing to network compatibility issues to an all-out security breach.

Can these vulnerabilities be avoided by simply imposing an arbitrary “no shadow IT” policy? Of course not.

The underlying cause of shadow IT is a rigid IT department which is reluctant to accept change. When employees are not offered better solutions, they’ll seek out their own.

Out of the Shadows

Shadow IT can be minimized when the IT team sheds its “watchdog” mentality in favor of a collaborative, win-win relationship with the rest of the company:

  • Address employees’ high-priority IT requests as soon as possible. Streamline evaluation/procurement processes to remove roadblocks to new solutions.
  • Keep an open mind to out-of-the-box ideas. Don’t shoot down a suggestion by replying, “We can’t do it that way… because that’s not the way we do it.”
  • Regularly share information about emerging security threats—and how to avoid them.
  • Reinforce the importance of following data compliance regulations, where applicable.
  • Stay ahead of the game by following the latest IT trends and suggesting cutting-edge solutions.
  • Stress the practicality of centralized IT operations as opposed to individuals “doing their own thing.”

Effective two-way communication is the ultimate defense against shadow IT. At MPA Networks, we’ve found that this proactive approach has worked wonders for customers who’ve felt bogged down by an unresponsive IT department. Employees are less inclined to look for outside solutions—and ultimately become more productive—when they feel they’re simply being listened to.

BYOD Is Here: Where’s Your Company Policy?

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Best IT blog on setting policies for bring your own device mobile usage by company employees.

Once upon a time, IT administrators offered company-issued hardware to employees based upon something akin to Henry Ford’s “Model T” approach: “You can have any equipment you want, as long as it’s whatever we have for you.”

In light of the mobile/Wi-Fi revolution over the past few years, times have changed. Many employees now prefer to rely upon their personal notebook, tablet, or smartphone to do business. In fact, some companies actually offer a stipend to employees to purchase their own mobile device—whether it means waiting in line to grab the latest generation of that trendy high-end gadget or choosing a cost-conscious off-the-shelf workhorse from a lesser-known brand.

This trend has been recognized as the “consumerization” of IT, or more informally as bring-your-own-device (BYOD).

The BYOD Advantage…

Allowing employees the option of bringing their own mobile devices to work offers several advantages:

  • The company bears less of the cost associated with purchasing new hardware, or letting unused surplus equipment take up space.
  • Employees who use their preferred personal devices—in the office or when telecommuting—experience higher overall productivity, while eliminating the redundancy of carrying both the “work” phone and personal phone.
  • Managers avoid that (usually awkward) experience of retrieving “company property” from an employee on their last day on the job.

…And the Drawbacks

With new mobile devices constantly entering the market (will the smartwatch catch on or fail?), BYOD is part of the modern workplace. But it opens a whole slew of legal grey areas, chiefly revolving around the privacy of employees’ personal content vs. the security of sensitive—if not legally protected—company data. Which work-related content created on an employee’s personal device belongs solely to the company? Companies of all sizes need a formal BYOD policy to tightly regulate the use of personal gadgets on the job.

A BYOD policy is unique to the needs of every company. Avoid “cookie-cutter” legal templates which became outdated yesterday. For your protection, craft a policy which clearly spells out key areas, including:

  • Which devices are permissible (laptops, tablets, smartphones)
  • Standardized anti-virus protection and other necessary security
  • Allowable/prohibited apps
  • Acceptable wireless connectivity (LAN, VPN, public Wi-Fi)
  • How/when/where mobile data is backed up
  • Which cloud applications are accessible (email, calendar, file sharing, and more)

Lastly, every personal mobile device can be lost or stolen at any time. No BYOD framework can be without a universal “kill switch” to immediately wipe company data from a device’s memory. There are several commercial apps available which will reliably do this.

BYOD in your company is inevitable. Embrace it, but protect yourself with a solid, comprehensive policy. Don’t know where to begin? We can help.

Handling Your Growing Network with IT Managed Services

Friday, October 31st, 2014


Small and medium-sized business (SMB) computer networks are more of a living project than a one-and-done IT expense. Network-focused IT managed services guides you through the possibilities and challenges presented by changes in personnel and office environments that can squeeze your bandwidth and negatively affect your team’s productivity. Working with a local managed services IT consulting firm facilitates your entire operation by providing experts who will handle the physical setup and configuration to handle your needs today. Moreover, IT managed service providers (MSPS) carry out network expansion procedures on a regular basis, while internal IT considers the job a special project that takes staff away from normal support work.

Any given network can handle only a finite quantity of devices and digital traffic. Consequently, as your business grows, so do your network requirements. Company expansion — i.e., adding new roles and even whole departments — is a good thing, but those new employees are going to use more of your network resources.

IT Managed Services Helps to Manage Device Growth

Network demands grow from adding devices as opposed to people. A new employee inevitably introduces more devices to the network — but existing employees are also using more devices than ever before. In the 90s, everyone had a single desktop (or laptop) computer connected to an Ethernet cable, but Wi-Fi has increased both mobility and flexibility (and devices are shrinking to more portable sizes). A lone wireless hotspot may need to handle traffic from computers, smartphones, and tablets for those employees who wish to participate in company-approved “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policies.

In other words, a network with a capacity for 64 devices will be insufficient for 64 employees.

IT managed services can work proactively with your small business to anticipate growing demands, eliminating the need to respond reactively when the network becomes overloaded. Whether it’s bridging the network with a third Wi-Fi access point or adding an office wing subnet, a partnership between your business and an IT managed services company provides crucial visibility, foreseeing and addressing network growth needs before they cause trouble.

Planning Ahead

Unmanaged networks tend to grow out of momentary necessity instead of a dedicated, overarching plan for handling increasing traffic demand. So it’s no surprise that they are prone to performance, stability, and security issues down the road. An ad hoc approach to expanding your network, like daisy-chaining a new switch or Wi-Fi access point to the existing network to connect more devices within a single room, offers only a temporary fix. And it can backfire down the line when all the devices sharing that connection perform slowly, when one switch failure means no network access for the whole company, or when one virus-infected device contaminates the entire network due to poor confinement.

Alternatively, a carefully designed network allowing for easy expansion prevents the development of these and many similar problems. IT managed services specializes in handling the full lifecycle of your network, from initial design to security administration to hardware and software upgrades, allowing you to focus on what you do best: business.

When it comes to network expansion, preparation is key. IT managed services can not only solve your network problems, it can keep others at bay.