Can Deploying MDM Avoid Another Privacy vs National Security Feud?

The recent feud between Apple and the FBI over a judge’s order to unlock a terrorist’s iPhone has sparked a nationwide device-encryption debate about privacy vs. national security. Yet for businesses, the spotlight on whether or not to create a “back door” illustrates a lesson to be learned by CIOs and IT Managers: A Mobile Device Management policy can help companies avoid finding themselves in a similar situation.

The iPhone at the center of the debate was in the possession of terrorist suspect, Syed Rizwan Farook, but it was owned by Farook’s employer. And, apparently, it was not enrolled in a Mobile Device Management (MDM)-server.

Most CIOs and IT managers aren’t likely going to find themselves in the same situation as Farook’s employer. Yet (without casting blame) this debate should be a friendly reminder to businesses implementing BYOD about the value of adopting MDM technology and policies. In fact, had the device in question been enrolled in a company-owned MDM, wiping the passcode could have been done with one click.

So How Does Deploying MDM Help?

Apple’s MDM APIs are built into every iOS device. Once enrolled, whether you’re using Apple’s Profile Manager, JAMF Software’s Casper Suite, AirWatch, or any other MDM, the ability to remotely wipe the passcode is trivial. The sad part of this story is that San Bernardino County apparently has a contract with MobileIron, but did not install it on all employee devices (including the device in question).

Over the years, I’ve been as excited about new MDM APIs each year. I am all about new consumer-facing features, and Apple has continued to expand what MDM servers can do. When the iPhone first came into the enterprise, it lacked Exchange support. Fast forward to a few years later, iOS is one of the easiest platforms to manage. About the only thing lacking on my “enterprise” wish list for iOS is the ability to do remote screen sharing for troubleshooting.

It’s like we’ve said before: A BYOD deployment’s success depends on an MDM strategy. If CIOs don’t take the time to properly understand, research, and implement the technology that Apple and its partners make available, then they’ll have no one to blame when problems appear


Bradley Chambers has been the Director of Information Technology at Brainerd Baptist School since 2009. At BBS, he manages a network of Apple and Chrome OS devices. He also writes at Tools & Toys. The Sweet Setup, and 9to5Mac.

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