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Best Practices on Security of Mobile Devices Recently Issued by NIST

The latest in a series of National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) publications is the Guidelines for Managing the Security of Mobile Devices in the Enterprise (the “Guidelines”), a comprehensive document to help federal agencies manage and secure mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets used by their employees for government business (whether organization-provided or personally-owned) against a variety of threats. In addition to extensively updating NIST’s Guidelines on Cell Phone and PDA Security issued in 2008, the Guidelines reflect comments received on a draft version issued last year.

The Guidelines are a valuable resource on enterprise mobile device security for all businesses, not just federal agencies, and are designed to be used by Chief Information Officers (CIOs), Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs), and other information security professionals as best practices when designing, implementing, and maintaining enterprise-level mobile device security.

The Guidelines explain the security concerns inherent in mobile device use and recommend that organizations use a technology solution that centralizes mobile device management at the enterprise level to secure mobile devices used by employees. A centralized mobile device management solution allows organizations to control and manage the configuration and security of both organization-provided and personally-owned mobile devices and provide secure access to enterprise resources, such as an organization’s computer network.

The Guidelines provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of centralized mobile device management technologies, including an overview of the components, architectures, and capabilities of these technologies and offer recommendations for selecting, implementing, and using such technologies.

Other key recommendations for organizations seeking to implement and maintain a sound mobile device security program include:

  1. Instituting a mobile device security policy that is documented in the system security plan and that defines: (1) the types of enterprise resources that may be accessed via mobile devices; (2) the types of mobile devices that are permitted to access the organization’s resources; (3) the degree of access of the various classes of mobile devices (organization-provided mobile devices vs. personally-owned mobile devices) and how provisioning should be handled; (4) how the organization’s centralized mobile device management servers are administered and how policies in those servers are updated, and (5) all other requirements for mobile device management technologies.
  2. Developing system threat models for mobile devices and the organization resources that are accessed through mobile devices before designing and deploying mobile device solutions.
  3. Considering the merits of each security service provided by mobile device solutions, determine which services are needed for the organization’s environment, and then designing and acquiring one or more solutions that collectively provide the necessary security services.
  4. Implementing and testing a pilot of the enterprise mobile device solution before putting the solution into production by: (1) evaluating connectivity, protection, authentication, application functionality, solution management, logging, and performance for each type of mobile device; (2) updating/configuring all components with the latest patches following sound security practices; (3) implementing a mechanism for automatic detection of jailbroken or rooted mobile devices; and (4) ensuring that the mobile device solution doesn’t unexpectedly fall back to insecure default settings.
  5. Securing each organization-issued mobile device before allowing a user to access it by: (1) fully securing to a known good state already-deployed organization-provided mobile devices with an unknown security profile, and (2) deploying supplemental security controls such as anti-virus software and data loss prevention solutions, as needed based on potential risk.
  6. Regularly maintaining mobile device security by employing operational processes such as the ones listed below and perform periodic assessments (vulnerability scans, penetration testing, reviewing logs) to confirm that the organization’s mobile device policies, processes, and procedures are being followed: (1) keeping an active inventory of each mobile device, its users, and applications; (2) deleting applications that have been installed but subsequently assessed as being too risky for use or revoking access to such applications; (3) scrubbing sensitive data from organization-issued devices before re-issuing them to other enterprise users; (4) checking for, acquiring, testing, and deploying upgrades and patches, (5) ensuring that each mobile device infrastructure component has its clock synched to a common time source; (6) reconfiguring access control features as needed; (7) detecting and documenting anomalies, such as unauthorized configuration changes to mobile devices.

Lastly, Appendix A to the Guidelines lists the major controls from the NIST Special Publication 800-53, Security and Privacy Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations, Revision 4 that are applicable to enterprise mobile device security and Appendix C provides a list of mobile device security resources.

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