Why Apple’s culture of secrecy is your biggest risk in BYOD

The news of the bug in Apple operating systems has spread this week. As Seth Rosenblatt wrote on cnet, Apple’s culture of secrecy again has delayed a security response. While there is a patch available for iOS, the users of OS X still have to wait.

I have written before about the risks Apple’s culture of secrecy imposes for users. There are two major issues:

  • Apple does not inform either adequately or in a timely manner about security issues. Doing that is mandatory, including providing detailed information about workarounds and patches.
  • Apple still does not have an adequate patch policy in place.
It is well worth reading Ropsenblatt’s article, as it provides a number of examples for the consequences Apple’s culture of secrecy has from a security perspective. I can wholeheartedly agree with his final paragraph:

“With its history of lengthy response times to critical security problems, Apple is equally long overdue for a serious re-evaluation of how they handle their insecurities.”

However, the culture of secrecy is just a consequence of Apple's "we are the best and don't make errors" hubris - a long tradition of Apple. They positioned themselves as the counterpoint to the error-prone Microsoft Windows products a long time ago. While Microsoft has learned its lessons in software quality, patch management, and security response and patching, Apple did not. Apple has to learn that continuous improvement and a good approach to security response and patching is required for any vendor, even Apple.

This attitude of Apple also impacts the risk evaluation of BYOD strategies. If you can’t trust the vendor, you have to protect yourself. So what can you do, if you do not want to simply ban Apple devices until Apple provides an enterprise-class approach on security responses and patching?

The simple yet expensive answer is: Invest in additional BYOD security measures. There are various options out there, none of them being the “holy grail” for mobile security. However, if you combine information- and identity-centric approaches for security with mobile security, you should be able to better know and mitigate your risks. Unfortunately, doing that means spending even more money to secure expensive hardware without an added value. That’s a high price to pay for the users being allowed to use Apple devices.

There will be a price to pay in terms of restricted use. This might be by limiting access from insecure apps (and there are some that are affected by the current bug) or by temporary access restrictions in case of newly detected bugs, unless these are fixed. There might be a need for relying on other, more secure apps, for instance for accessing e-mail, instead of the built-in apps. As always: there is a price to pay. If you don’t want to carry the risk Apple puts on you with its inadequate security policy, you have to invest in security and you will have to restrict use of these devices, impacting user’s convenience.

Unless Apple changes its security culture and overall attitude of "we are the best and don't make errors", the advice must be: don‘t trust any organization that relies on a culture of secrecy. And care for security yourself.

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