Just as my car mechanic has his own wrenches and Picasso used his own brushes, employees are buying their own workplace tools -- laptops, tablets, smart phone and e-readers-- and using them on your company network. And when employees bring their own mobile devices to work, that’s one less expense for your business, right?

Unfortunately, employees may also be bringing their own malware and other security and privacy threats. Corporate and personal data are bound to get co-mingled on mobile devices, especially when employees own those devices. All that social media updating, online shopping, personal email, photos, video and games can be an express train to the Internet’s worst neighborhoods, with your company network -- and every device on it -- along for the ride.

What can you do when your company is inundated with “personalized” computing and communication devices and applications? How do you support employee productivity while minimizing the risk of losing valuable data?

Training. What your employees don’t know can hurt you. Contact your internet service provider to find out how they’re preventing spam and viruses from infiltrating your business. Many ISPs also offer customized training to help employees spot phishing emails and set spam filters. Employees may not understand how rich media applications and streaming video suck up costly bandwidth and slow your network.

Count on the cloud. Allowing employees to access documents and information through a web browser in the cloud has security risks, but the productivity benefits are huge. Our company uses free web-based email, and almost-free contact management and project management applications, that easily switch between phone, laptop and desktop. Plus, we have the security of knowing everything is backed up offsite in the cloud.

Security. Security is an ongoing process necessitating regular password changes, firewall hardware, anti-malware and backup applications. There are powerful free anti-malware apps and backup apps that may do the trick for your company. My team uses a combination of hard drives and cloud-based backup to ensure no data is lost. Other software tools allow you to manage logins and support remote wipe-offs when devices are stolen or misplaced. For example, iPhone users can download a free app called Find My iPhone.

Usage policies. Decide which devices employees can and can’t use. Android devices, for example, tend to get more malware and security threats than iPhones and iPads.

If this sounds overwhelming to you, you’re not alone. But small business IT support firms are everywhere and will charge as little as $3 per month for a single service, such as protection against spam. More comprehensive support, including licenses, backup and security, will run you about $30 to $100 a month. That may sound expensive, but once your company gets big enough you’ll probably invest in some of your own software, cloud backup, firewalls and the like, eliminating the need to outsource everything.

There is no shortage of geeks here in Silicon Valley, so I’ve learned some basic ways to protect my business. I don’t have all the technology answers and I don’t have an in-house IT team. But I do know I’m asking the right questions so Murphy and his law don’t catch us off guard.


Published on: Oct 9, 2012
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.