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WYOD in the Workplace: Benefits, Risks, and Security Implications

March 07, 2017

We are still in the first quarter of 2016, and already the numbers are looking good for wearable devices in the consumer market. Some outlets are reporting year-over-year sales growth exceeding 100 percent for devices as a whole, not to mention that January’s CES show was as heavy on new wearable tech as it was on Internet of Things innovations. If what we’ve learned from technology’s recent past holds true, this year’s high-concept CES demos may be next year’s must-own consumer devices. So wearables are certain to show up in the workplace with an increasing frequency, and the devices are only going to be smarter and more connected as time goes on.

As wearables become more popular—with some of them, like fitness trackers, possibly reaching near-ubiquity in the near future—enterprises need to take stock of the benefits, risks, and security implications of the Wear Your Own Device (WYOD) model. The following exploration of these issues will help you and your clients decide how best to manage the new wave of wearable tech as it reaches the workplace.

What Are the Benefits of Workplace WYOD?

There are a range of potential benefits in terms of productivity as enterprise-class wearables continue to appear on the market. As businesses find new uses for technologies like augmented-reality (AR) glasses, wearables stand to fundamentally change the way that people conduct business. In a not-too-far-off future, you may conduct video chat meetings or watch webinars superimposed over your field of vision through your AR glasses, rather than watching them on a screen on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. Or you may make slight adjustments to something on a factory floor across the country while you stand in an office controlling a robot with a piece of “smart” clothing you’re wearing.

But one need not look that far into the future in order to see the benefits of WYOD. Some companies have already been taking advantage of the most popular consumer wearable device—the fitness tracker—in order to implement company-wide health incentives.

When it comes down to it, the benefits that an enterprise will see from WYOD depend on the space and what devices the wearable industry dreams up in order to fit that space’s needs. But wearables are sure to play a big role in streamlining processes and enabling new forms of interactivity, collaboration, and incentivization.

What Are the Risks?

The more popular wearable devices become, the more we will start seeing the same sort of problems we have with smartphones, tablets, and other devices. There have been recent proofs of concept showing that ransomware can infect some wearable devices, so it’s not a huge leap to imagine critical business data being stolen from a malware-infected wearable device or a wearable device introducing malware into an enterprise by connecting to a business network.  

And as with any technology, the more advanced it becomes, the more concerns there are about security. Wearables are poised to collect unprecedented amounts of personal data—even biometric data—from individuals, and if wearables are recording sound and video in workplace settings or collecting other business-critical data, those data could be vulnerable—and valuable to hackers. So just as with other devices, wearables can pose a way for malicious actors to get onto business networks and may also themselves be valuable targets of hacking because of the data they collect and store.

So What Does That Mean for Security?

The implications of having ubiquitous wearable devices coming in and out of the office are much like those of other devices—though perhaps with higher stakes. Having a good usage policy that takes into account real-life user behavior, using threat intelligence in order to stay on top of emerging threats and manage risk, and having cutting-edge security solutions in place and managed by competent staff will be critical to keeping the WYOD-enabled workplace safe, no matter which wearables end up being the most widely adopted.

What ways have you seen wearables implemented in the workplace so far?