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2023: The Year of Mobile Data Protection

The full-time return to office work has been declared dead. While this most likely has pleased most employees, Chief Security Officers (CSOs) and their teams will be less than ecstatic. They know remote working increases the possibility of security attacks and data breaches. And with the growing use of mobile expanding their attack surface, they are finding out firsthand that current solutions, relying on VPNs and user IDs, for example, are simply not enough. 

The resulting data breaches and attacks can be costly and damaging to organizations, exposing them to reputational damage and significant fines. Over 2023, the healthcare and financial sectors both paid a heavy price for data breaches. In fact, according to research by Proxyrack, the average cost of a data breach incident in healthcare is estimated at $9.23 million — the highest of any industry surveyed. The financial sector comes in second, with an average cost of $5.27 million.

Industries subject to rigorous regulation, like healthcare and finance, are encountering growing challenges with staff’s usage of applications, such as WhatsApp and Slack, for file sharing. This practice can violate stringent regulations pertaining to data confidentiality and security.

To tackle these growing concerns surrounding mobile data security, Symmetrium focused on upgrading its offering during 2023 to directly address and provide a solution to the security flaws CSOs were encountering.

Here are the standout highlights:

An Instant Messaging (IM) and SMS Data Protection Solution

With messaging apps now commonplace in the work environment, Symmetrium released its  unique IM and SMS suite. This innovation empowers organizations to promptly counter these security risks by implementing Virtual Mobile Devices (VDMs) within their network. 

Symmetrium’s VDMs offer users dedicated work mobile numbers, serving as unique identifiers, all without requiring separate physical devices. This shields employees against SMS phishing (Smishing), actively preventing fraudulent activities and malicious links by meticulously scanning every message. It seamlessly integrates with existing email security tools to ensure secure message delivery to end users. 

The solution also addresses compliance concerns by efficiently capturing and storing all work-related messages, establishing an agentless IM and SMS archive. This capability enables organizations to consistently meet the stringent regulatory data requirements imposed on their specific sector.

Creating a True Zero-Trust Solution to Reduce Attack-Surface Area

To limit the amount of touch points to public networks, Symmetrium delivered a cutting-edge zero-trust data mobile access solution. This facilitates productive collaboration while significantly reducing the attack-surface area and the chances of data breaches. 

To maintain a secure and private zero-trust environment for data, while minimizing external touch points to the internet, Symmetrium uses its groundbreaking VMDs. These reside within the organization’s network, so when accessed by employees remotely via their mobile phones or laptops, they serve as extensions of the company’s comprehensive security and compliance policies. 

By leveraging end-to-end encrypted streaming, these VMDs ensure a seamless, completely native mobile experience with effortless deployment and management. Sensitive data is accessed virtually and therefore at no time sits on the user’s actual device. The result is a true zero-trust environment, a radically reduced attack surface to ensure that data remains secure and is never put at risk.

Upgrading to Support 5G Networks to Deliver Security and Speed

During 2023, Symmetirum upgraded its streaming technology to support 5G networks. This uses AWS Wavelength Zones to enable organizations deploying Symmetrium’s high-performance Virtual Mobile Devices to benefit from a near real-time experience.

AWS Wavelength integrates the high bandwidth and ultralow latency capabilities of 5G networks with AWS compute and storage services. So, rather than using the public internet, AWS Wavelength Zones enable users to have a telco-grade connection between the cloud and the telco, and between the device and the telco. This shortens the overall time point-to-point, providing a super fast native experience for Symmetrium’s users.

Revolutionizing Zero-Trust Capabilities for Mobile Devices

In the quest for zero trust, Symmetrium’s provision of Virtual Mobile Devices functioning within the organization’s network perimeter, coupled with P2P encrypted streaming, guarantees data security without storing data on external devices. This innovative approach negates the necessity for extensive technological overhauls, enabling seamless integration of Symmetrium into existing infrastructure.

In 2024 Symmetrium will continue to empower organizations to confidently confront zero-trust challenges, facilitating a secure digital transformation. Organizations implementing Symmetrium will shield their data from both established and emerging security threats, including spyware, thereby enabling them to maintain a competitive edge in today’s dynamic landscape.

Safeguard your workspaces by establishing a genuine zero-trust environment for your mobile devices. Schedule a demo with Symmetrium today.

Navigating Compliance: Controlling IM Communications and Archiving in Highly Regulated Industries

With stringent oversight and the ever-evolving legislative landscape, organizations operating within highly regulated sectors face a unique set of challenges. One of the paramount considerations is managing how information is shared by employees and to ensure it is adherence to industry-specific regulations.

This has become a highly complicated management task, with Instant Messaging emerging as a highly popular communications tool to send and receive information within organizations. This is why controlled IM communications and archiving are now essential elements of compliance and risk mitigation.

Meeting the Needs of the Regulatory Maze

Highly regulated industries such as finance, healthcare, legal, and energy are no strangers to the intricate web of compliance requirements. Regulatory bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and others wield substantial authority over these sectors. Non-compliance can result in severe penalties, including fines, legal actions, and reputational damage.

Within this context, the management of mobile electronic communications has come under intense scrutiny. Regulators require organizations to maintain and archive a comprehensive record of these communications. The rationale behind this is twofold: to ensure transparency and to facilitate investigations when necessary.

The IM Challenge

IM platforms enable swift decision-making, collaboration, and information sharing. However, their informal and unsanctioned nature poses unique challenges when it comes to compliance. Conversations happen quickly, often without the formality of emails, making them difficult to track and archive.

Furthermore, the use of personal devices for business communication, a common practice known as “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD), complicates matters. In BYOD scenarios, distinguishing between personal and business-related communications becomes challenging, potentially exposing personal data to scrutiny during compliance audits.

In heavily regulated sectors, challenges arise when employees transmit files through applications, such as WhatsApp and Slack. These actions can result in data breaches and non-compliance with stringent regulations governing data confidentiality and security. Archiving these IM ‘conversations’ is infeasible despite regulatory requirements, due to technical and privacy challenges, forcing organizations to attempt to ban their use within the corporate environment.  

Difficulties Trying to Ban IM Communications 

Establishing and upholding a secure and compliant environment, with appropriate archiving, places a significant burden on organizations. This has left those who spearhead compliance policies struggling to control employees’ use of apps, such as Whatsapp, WeChat or TikTok, for work purposes. Indeed, the biggest concern for 61.5% of compliance leaders is “getting employees to comply with rules for electronic communication.” 

Even more concerning is that only 3% of compliance officers “strongly believe” banning messaging platforms is an effective method of ensuring compliant communications within their organization. This is even though the majority (59%) has enforced prohibitions on the use of social media and messaging apps as a response to heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Increasing Regulatory Pressure

However, despite the difficulties involved, regulators are increasing the pressure on organizations to demonstrate how they are monitoring and archiving data exchanged using messaging apps. 

The SEC, for example, has been taking a tough stance on major banks for their failure to monitor and archive their employees’ messages on unauthorized platforms. In December, the SEC imposed fines totaling $1.1 billion on Citigroup, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs, following a $125 million penalty against J.P. Morgan Chase in December 2021.

The extent of the investigation into text messaging practices saw the SEC request firms to furnish their policies and procedures governing the use or prohibition of text messages and the retention of communications associated with brokerage or advisory services. Subsequently, the agency seeks documentation revealing the individuals responsible for supervising these messages, the methods employed for monitoring and training, as well as the mechanisms in place for detecting violations. 

Across all sectors that have to adhere to strict regulations, the use of messaging apps is presenting one of the biggest compliance challenges to confront organizations.

How Organizations Can Quickly and Cost Effectively Ensure Compliance

The paramount objective of regulation revolves around safeguarding data, necessitating the prevention of data from leaving and residing outside the corporate network. Symmetrium achieves this with the creation of Virtual Mobile Devices (VMDs) situated within the secure confines of an organization’s network. These VMDs seamlessly align with existing enterprise network and regulatory protocols, assuring the privacy and protection of all data. This proactive approach mitigates against the risk of substantial fines.

Symmetrium’s VMDs employ P2P encrypted streaming technology, enabling employees to access data through a designated portal on their personal devices. Importantly, this access is view-only, ensuring that the data never traverses beyond the secure organizational network and is never stored on external user devices. This robust security framework guarantees the continual safeguarding and compliance of sensitive data, with no data ever residing on devices external to the organization’s IT environment.

A Simplified and Streamlined Approach 

The outcome of implementing Symmetrium’s VMDs is a simplified and more streamlined approach to managing data. Regulatory officers and Chief Information Officers (CIOs) benefit from reduced complexity, as Symmetrium’s VMDs seamlessly extend existing compliance protocols. They are effortless to deploy and provide a native mobile experience, instantly ensuring compliance through customized end-to-end encrypted streaming, with no data stored at rest. Each mobile user is treated as an on-premises endpoint, granting control over when and where data can be accessed.

Symmetrium’s mobile access solution boasts minimal operational requirements while meeting stringent security compliance standards, seamlessly integrating with established data access protocols. The result is compliance simplified into a single, user-friendly app.

The need for controlled IM communications and archiving is paramount in highly regulated industries. Compliance is not merely a regulatory box to check; it’s a strategic imperative for risk management, security, and operational efficiency. Organizations that embrace these solutions not only meet their compliance obligations but also position themselves for success in an ever-changing regulatory landscape.

Isn’t it time you reevaluated your approach to meeting your regulatory requirements? Schedule a demonstration with Symmetrium today.

How to Protect Data When Mobile is the Biggest Threat to Corporate IT Security

The growth in BYOD policies and prevalence of hybrid work is seeing an increasing number of employees ditch traditional work devices in favor of personal ones. The result has seen cybercriminals shift their focus. They now see mobile devices as the soft underbelly of corporate IT networks and the perfect launchpad for their attacks. 

There are several reasons why hackers see personal mobile devices used in a corporate setting as an easy target. When managing these devices, mobile users frequently depend on the default security settings provided by manufacturers, as opposed to employing enhanced security software that is commonly deployed on their desktop computers.  Additionally, they often fail to regularly update their mobile operating systems, leaving their devices vulnerable to the latest malware and viruses. They also use a multitude of non-work-related apps, potentially exposing their device to being compromised. 

Cybercriminals have become adept at distributing malevolent APKs (Android application package files) through direct downloads and third-party app stores by masquerading unofficial versions of legitimate apps. By capitalizing on the familiarity of well-known app names, these malicious apps aim to infiltrate employee devices with malware. 

Highly regulated sectors, such as healthcare and finance, also face problems when employees send files via apps such as WhatsApp and Slack. These can be responsible for data leaks and contravene strict regulations surrounding the confidentiality and security of data. 

 

Lack of Adequate Security Protection for Mobile Devices

Despite these threats and the widespread implementation of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, there is still a glaring lack of adequate mobile security protection in most organizations. And this should make every CSO shudder given the results of research carried out by SlashNext

  • 71% of employees store sensitive work passwords on their personal phone
  • 66% of employees sometimes use their personal texting apps for work use
  • 59% of employees sometimes use their personal private messaging apps for work use.

Unsurprisingly, a growing number of CSOs are finding out the hard way that mobile devices represent one of the most vulnerable endpoint in their organization. But why, in an era where mobile device management (MDM) solutions enable administrators to control, secure and enforce policies on phones, tablets and other endpoints, is mobile still seen by hackers as highly exploitable?

The problem is that mobile presents a security threat that is bigger than the sum of its parts — beyond emails, calendars or messaging apps — because mobile devices interact with numerous systems, networks and enterprise data. Their escalating use in the workplace therefore means an ever-escalating array of devices, endpoints and identities. This means they require an entire set of resources to continuously secure, protect and manage their usage that few organizations have the resources or solutions to fully implement. 

 

The Achilles Heel Mobile Device Management (MDM)

The key flaw of MDM solutions revolves around their primary goal — to enable the centralized management of all endpoint devices and users. This approach encompasses various tools like mobile application management (MAM) and identity and access management capabilities. But focusing on managing devices and identity management is not enough. Employees have multiple identities — for email, WhatsApp, Slack, etc — and CSOs can fall into the false belief that by securing these various IDs, they in turn protect devices and data. But the Achilles heel with these solutions is that they, again, focus on securing devices and users — not data.

So, once users are granted access to the corporate IT network, the data they interact with on their mobile is stored on that device. Consequently, the data is no longer confined within the secure corporate network environment and is left exposed and vulnerable on the device it now resides on. Hackers exploit this by targeting individual employees who have access to confidential information on their mobile device, rather than exploiting a technical vulnerability

 

Addressing the Risks Posed by Remote Access 

The ultimate goal of security has to focus on protecting data and therefore needs to stop data from leaving and coming to rest outside of the corporate network. This is precisely where Symmetrium, a cutting-edge zero-trust data mobile access solution, steps in, facilitating productive collaboration while significantly reducing the chances of data breaches. This innovative solution effectively transforms any mobile device, be it managed or unmanaged, into a virtual extension of the organization’s network, complete with compliance, security, and IT protocols.

To maintain a secure and private zero-trust environment for data, Symmetrium offers a groundbreaking solution through its virtual mobile devices (VMDs). These virtual devices, residing within the organization’s network, serve as extensions of the company’s comprehensive security and compliance policies when accessed remotely by employees via their mobile phones or laptops. Leveraging end-to-end encrypted streaming, these VMDs ensure a seamless, completely native mobile experience with effortless deployment and management. Sensitive data is accessed virtually and therefore at no time sits on the user’s actual device. The result is that data remains secure and is never put at risk.

With Symmetrium at their disposal, organizations gain unparalleled control over the data accessed by their employees through mobile devices, ensuring robust protection against potential risks. The convenience of a centralized management console allows for efficient management of diverse devices, regardless of their brand or operating system, all while minimizing resource allocation.

 

Seamlessly Meeting Security and GRC Protocols

The seamless integration of Symmetrium effortlessly aligns with existing security and GRC (Governance, Risk, and Compliance) protocols, united under a single application. As a result, organizations can rest assured, knowing that their data remains safeguarded and secure, regardless of the device utilized for access, because Symmetrium: 

  1. Enforces strict network policies for seamless protection of sensitive data and compliance with regulations.
  2. Ensures Compatibility with various hardware and software configurations on multiple devices.
  3. Mitigates the risk of data breaches, malware attacks, and unauthorized access.
  4. Requires minimal resource allocation, optimizing efficiency.
  5. Delivers centralized management through a user-friendly console.
  6. Enables employees to utilize personal devices while maintaining their experience and privacy.
  7. Ensures a highly cost-effective solution, eliminating the need for device purchasing, maintenance, or upgrades.

Symmetrium’s streamlined approach empowers organizations to maintain unwavering data security, bolstering data governance, and fortifying against potential vulnerabilities with confidence.

Discover how easy it is to tame the threat of mobile security by booking a demo with Symmetrium here.

How to Overcome the Problems Achieving HIPAA Compliance for Mobile Devices

Implementing and maintaining a secure and compliant HIPAA environment places a heavy burden on healthcare organizations, with current solutions failing to consistently meet the strict regulatory requirements. Symmetrium’s compliant-by-design mobile device management solution is now a game changer, ensuring HIPAA compliance through the use of a single, low maintenance application. 

The use of mobile devices has become a staple feature of every healthcare environment. But while they are transforming patient care, the security risks mobile devices pose to confidential patient information is a growing risk. This is why access to healthcare data via mobile devices has been specifically targeted by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a federal law requiring the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed.

 

Challenges Involved in Protecting ePHI

HIPAA protects electronic protected health information (ePHI) that is produced, saved, transferred or received in an electronic form. Every entity that has access to ePHI needs to be compliant to HIPAA rules. This applies to doctors, nurses, clinics, pharmacies, insurance companies and anyone accessing ePHI — they all need to be compliant. 

HIPAA states: “Healthcare providers, other covered entities, and business associates may use mobile devices to access electronic protected health information (ePHI) as long as appropriate physical, administrative, and technical safeguards are in place to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the ePHI on the mobile device and appropriate BAAs [Business Associate Agreements] are in place with any third-party service providers for the device and/or the cloud that will have access to e-PHI.”

However, staff mobility, remote employees, third-party contractors and BYOD policies are just a few of the reasons implementing adequate security and compliance solutions to meet HIPAA requirements is increasingly difficult. 

 

Vulnerabilities in Current Solutions 

With a heavy burden placed on the healthcare sector to be HIPAA compliant, the first line of defense is to ensure devices include the necessary safeguards to guarantee against theft and data loss through the use of a robust layer of security.
HIPAA regulations also require that ePHI data must be encrypted when transmitted over a network. The most popular way of doing this is to create a VPN through which VDIs (virtual desktop infrastructure) can connect to the data, therefore negating the need for it to be encrypted. This however raises problems.

Usage can be limited because a user needs to make sure no one else is using the VDI. This means they have limited flexibility and can be more difficult to scale as needed. This can be a problem for organizations with fluctuating user numbers or those looking to implement a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy. There are also security concerns as users operating in a VDI environment can as easily click on a malicious link in an email or on a web page as someone using a physical desktop. 

VDIs also require a heavy level of management and maintenance, which places a heavy burden for qualified IT staff where ongoing training and staff turnover can become problematic. To comply with HIPAA data encryption and data wiping tools may also need to be implemented and maintained. This can add to the management burden. 

 

Achieving HIPAA Compliance with One Solution

HIPAA compliance can be achieved using only one solution. Symmetrium is HIPAA compliant by design for mobile devices. Symmetrium creates virtual mobile devices (VMDs) that reside within the protected perimeter of a healthcare organization’s network and thus adhere to all existing enterprise network and HIPAA security protocols. This ensures that ePHI data is kept private and protected, avoiding security breaches and massive fines.

Symmetrium VMDs use P2P encrypted streaming, which allows healthcare workers to view ePHI data via a portal using their own devices. This view-only access means ePHI data never leaves the protected organizational network and therefore is never transferred to a user’s external device. This ensures the data at all times remains secure and compliant, never coming to rest on devices outside of the protected organizational IT environment.

The result is an easier life for regulatory officers and CIOs thanks to the less complicated management of ePHI data, because:

  1. Symmetrium’s VMDs become a virtual extension of all existing HIPAA compliance protocols, are seamless to deploy and offer a native mobile experience.

  2. They immediately ensure HIPAA compliance in BYOD environments using custom end-to-end encrypted streaming with no ePHI data at rest. This means that each mobile user is treated as an on-prem endpoint, which they can control when and where users can access ePHI data.

  3. Symmetrium’s minimum-resources mobile access solution needs very light operational requirements and delivers high security compliance demands that integrate smoothly into existing data access protocols. The result is HIPAA compliance using one single app. 

 

Isn’t it time you reconsidered your approach to meeting HIPAA requirements? Book a demo with Symmetrium here.

SEC Issues Over $2bn in Fines to Crack Down on Use of WhatsApp and Other Messaging Apps

With financial institutions struggling to meet their regulatory obligations regarding messaging apps, the sector could have saved billions of dollars by using Symmetrium to minimize their exposure.

When JPMorgan was hit with $200 million in SEC fines in Dec 2021, for letting employees use WhatsApp, it should have been a warning sign. Less than a year later, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) struck again, fining 16 Wall Street firms $1.8B for using private text apps

This avalanche of fines was imposed on banks and financial institutions for allowing employees to discuss business via unapproved and unmonitored messaging systems, such as WhatsApp. Such discussions are legally required to be recorded, stored and available to government authorities to review when required.

The sector has been cracking down heavily on the use of unsecured messaging apps for business. In 2020, for example, a senior credit trader at JPMorgan was suspended for communicating via WhatsApp with colleagues at Jefferies, KPMG, and VTB Capital. 

 

Financial Institutions Struggling to Meet Regulatory Requirements

With the pervasive use of mobile phones as hybrid work policies become more normal, the exposure firms face has risen sharply since the time when only email was being used. All email messages could be stored and archived on corporate email servers to meet regulatory requirements, but now with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies and the widespread use of messaging apps, banks are struggling to meet SEC requirements. 

WhatsApp remains the most popular messaging app, but more than a half dozen others are regularly used, such as Facebook Messenger, iMessage, WeChat and Telegram. Their prevalence is giving Compliance Officers at financial services firms sleepless nights as workplace smartphones and BYOD policies create a perfect storm for users to intentionally or even accidentally breach SEC rules. 

 

How The Sector Could Have Avoided Billion-Dollar Fines

Sharing data using unauthorized messaging apps and personal email accounts not only flouts SEC regulations but can also expose sensitive data to security risks. Symmetrium’s zero trust mobile access solution has been specifically designed to help organizations operating in highly regulated sectors to remain compliant by keeping data protected, particularly in BYOD environments. 

Symmetrium is device agnostic, and works by the creation of virtual mobile devices (VMDs) within the organization’s own IT environment. These VMDs sit within this protected environment and when remotely accessed these virtual devices act as extensions of all organizational security and compliance policies using end-to-end encrypted streaming. So when messaging using Symmetrium’s mobile access solution, all regulatory obligations are adhered to in this highly controlled environment. The result is a completely secure, compliant and native mobile experience with seamless deployment and management.

 

Ensuring All Data Remains SEC Compliant

With messages sent by authorized users virtually accessing Symmetrium via the organizational network, the messages and any associated data never sits on the user’s actual device. The result is that data remains secure and archived to meet SECs requirements.

Each mobile device acts as an on-prem laptop, allowing for full control over employee messaging to shield financial institutions from any risks associated with using messaging apps, such as WhatsApp. 

This allows for minimum-resources mobile messaging management via a central management console for all devices, OS and brands. All is integrated smoothly into existing security and GRC data access protocols through one single app. The result is organizations can finally be confident their data and messaging remains secure and compliant at all times, avoiding crippling fines and potential data breaches. 

Discover how Symmetrium can keep your data and employee messaging compliant by booking a demo here.

 

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