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Professional Opinion

Use BYOD strategies to prepare for BYOA

How to manage the influx of apps in education
Chris LaPoint is vice president of product management at SolarWinds.
Chris LaPoint is vice president of product management at SolarWinds.

Just when you thought you had devices figured out, it’s becoming apparent that apps are a new, true threat. BYOD has led to BYOA—bring-your-own-app—and focus must now shift from devices to software.

Perhaps even more so than devices, apps are proving serious threats to school IT networks, especially as students and teachers become increasingly dependent on them. All of the data being uploaded, downloaded and streamed through these apps can put great strain on those networks and open them up to security threats.

Fortunately, if you have a good BYOD plan in place, you already have a solid foundation for a BYOA strategy. By following a few steps, you can ensure your network is well fortified and prepared for potential BYOA issues.

Monitor the network

Chances are you’re already keeping a close eye on the types of devices that are using your network. It’s a good idea to apply those same monitoring techniques to mobile apps, which, for such seemingly little things, can have a big impact on network performance.

For example, many teachers are using video as a learning tool in the classroom. By using videos on Discovery Channel to YouTube, they’re educating their students through visuals, many of which are being shown on school-approved mobile devices, such as iPads. But video is a bandwidth hog that can significantly slow network activity.

Automated monitoring and bandwidth analysis can identify and quickly resolve any network problems that apps are causing. These solutions can also detect and automatically resolve network performance issues. Finally, they can be instrumental in alerting you to security threats.

Gain control

Rogue devices are certainly problematic, but software has, historically, been the gateway for malware and hackers seeking to gain access to proprietary information. Unfortunately, that has not changed. So while Google automatically scans all Android apps for malware, and iOS apps are generally considered more hacker-proof and safe, it’s still very important to perform your own due diligence.

BYOD security strategies can also be applied to BYOA, albeit with a few new app-specific wrinkles:

  • Use a log and event manager to keep track of app activity. Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems can be used to monitor all network activity, including apps. These systems can provide you with valuable, around the clock insight into which apps are logging into the network as well as alerts to potential security threats.
  • Build “white” and “black” lists. Much like with devices, you should consider developing a “whitelist” of approved apps that are deemed safe for the network. You also may wish to create a “blacklist” of apps that may not be safe or that have no educational purpose.
  • Create your own app store. This is a tactic that many forward-thinking businesses are already employing, and it can also work for schools. Custom stores serve two purposes. First, they provide teachers and students with easy access to all apps permitted on the network. Second, homegrown app stores provide school administrators with a single place to keep, monitor and maintain all apps. Combined with automated monitoring, these strategies can truly help you protect your network from any app-related threats.

Embrace BYOA

For better or worse, our computing experience is now primarily based on apps—even on desktops and laptops. More apps mean more devices and more data.

With the ever-growing use of tablets and smartphones in the classroom and any place withWi-Fi, this trend reflects a new reality that will, in all likelihood, continue for the foreseeable future.

You could try to stem the tide, but I believe it is more beneficial to embrace BYOA—but to do so within reason.

Don’t give every app under the sun access to your network. Set up boundaries and parameters. You’ve already built a foundation for keeping potential threats in check, so apply the lessons and tactics you’re already employing with BYOD to BYOA.

Chris LaPoint is vice president of product management at SolarWinds.