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Live Streaming With Mobile Devices: The BYOD Challenge

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The last time we looked at mobile streaming in the enterprise -- almost 4 years ago -- it was still viewed as an external service that was reliant on wireless network partners, even for internal usage.

In the meantime, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend has left many companies scrambling to craft policies addressing the use of employee-owned devices for competition-sensitive content on and off corporate networks.

But has streaming been better integrated for internal corporate communications, without having to rely on the wireless service provider to access the network via a virtual private network (VPN)? We posed this and a series of other questions to several companies in the enterprise authentication, streaming, and videoconferencing space.

A Delicate Balance

The biggest area that any company has to deal with, when thinking about mobile devices, is the balance between accessibility and security.

“Since bring-your-own-device initiatives are now commonplace in businesses, giving employees access to work at their fingertips is more important than ever,” says Sean Brown, vice president of education at Sonic Foundry.

Erik W. Rolf (right), certified information systems auditor (CISA) and certified information systems security professional (CISSP), and a principal in Equifax’s Identity and Fraud Solutions group, says BYOD presents particular challenges. Rolf has worked on security policy for the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and he had his own security practice -- for which my consulting company (Transitions, Inc.) provided growth strategy consulting. Rolf stressed that his comments are his own personal views and do not necessarily reflect those of Equifax.

“BYOD has moved forward in fits and starts, delivering mixed results,” says Rolf. “Ensuring the security of proprietary content on a mobile device that is not owned by the enterprise certainly faces significant challenges.”

Rolf notes that the top four risks an enterprise faces in a BYOD scenario are relevant “irrespective of the native security models of current mobile device platforms (e.g., iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, etc.).”

The first risk is unauthorized disclosure. When content is sent to a device, Rolf says, “[I]t is basically impossible for the enterprise to ensure that only the authorized user is accessing it.” Part of the reason lies in what security firms call “trusted source,” which has been a hallmark of desktop enterprise computing for several years. Yet the mobile scenario requires an extra level of security.

“In a BYOD scenario, the identity of the user is speculative at best,” says Rolf, “hence the trend to use MAM/MDM solutions, which seek to authenticate the user and the device at a level of assurance that is acceptable to the enterprise.”

By MAM/MDM, Rolf is referring to mobile application management (MAM) and mobile device management (MDM) platforms, two types of authentication and remote-wipe platforms that can cover everything from managing an application to wiping the entire device.

The second risk is perhaps a bit more insidious: the risk of unauthorized modification. Rolf says this isn’t necessarily pertinent to streaming video in the enterprise, but it could have an impact if content such as financial data in a video stream is altered.

The third risk is unauthorized destruction of content. Those of us in the streaming industry focus on protecting unauthorized viewing -- by means such as controlled access, which disallows access to premium content a viewer has not subscribed to -- but spend little time thinking about protecting content once a viewer is authorized to view it.

“Proprietary data can be subject to availability attacks,” says Rolf, adding that, regardless of whether data is destroyed or “hacked” to add illicit encryption, both approaches “functionally prevent the enterprise from utilizing the data going forward.”

The final risk is the one that gets the most attention: infrastructure threats. “Allowing foreign devices to connect to enterprise networks does increase the likelihood of malicious activity on corporate networks,” says Rolf. “Today’s mobile devices are more powerful than PCs from just a few years ago, and have significant native storage. They can be used to launch sophisticated attacks, and exfiltrate large volumes of data.”

Sonic Foundry’s Sean Brown (right) acknowledges the security concerns around BYOD but says the power of devices gives enterprises an opportunity -- and a challenge -- when it comes to just-in-time-delivery of content. “Using personal devices in the office isn’t a new craze,” says Brown, “but they’ve never been as functional, collaborative, personal and universal as they are now.”

“Plus, workers are more tech-savvy than ever,” he adds, “and that means there needs to be a way to reach employees in real time. Use of mobile streaming in the enterprise is being used more and more, allowing live and on-demand playback of those meetings/professional development sessions/trainings on iPads, iPhones, iPods, Androids and BlackBerrys wherever they are.”

What About Mobile Cameras?

Along the lines of “wherever they are,” we talked to a Pixavi, a company with streaming and videoconferencing equipment that must work within the most rigid safety environments.

“Our products and solutions are made for a specific use case in a niche market -- EX and ATEX certified electronics for use in hazardous and explosive environments on oil and gas installations,” says Andreas Parr Bjørnsund, project manager for Pixavi AS, based in Stavanger, Norway. “To be even more precise, our cameras are certified for both Zone 1 and Zone 2 environments, which [are] the most hazardous areas you find.”

“To use electronic equipment in areas where there could be flammable and explosive gases in the atmosphere,” says Bjørnsund, “our customers require a special type of camera that is designed and certified in a very rigorous process, and approved by an independent third-party. This puts many restrictions on the way we can make cameras.”

Pixavi says the restrictions include the typical -- power consumption, charging, materials -- but also some of the significant limitations such as moving parts inside the camera and flash and light usage. The latter restriction is so that the cameras won’t set off optical fire alarms.

“All these restrictions, including also antenna gain levels and heat transfer etc, to mention a few more, make it quite challenging to design a camera that works well within these boundaries,” says Bjørnsund.

So what do clients actually do with these wireless cameras, such as the Xcaster EX5000 (shown top left)?

“Our customers can resolve issues that arise on offshore oil installations using video collaboration and communication with experts on shore,” says Bjørnsund. “The Xcaster EX5000 can stream H.264 video to a computer or tablet with [a] VLC player or [its] equivalent, so sometimes our customers using the cameras are able to fix problems without having to send more people offshore, thus saving a helicopter trip.”

Even though Pixavi plays in a very specialized space, it is not resting on its laurels. Bjørnsund says the company makes sure its products are competitive -- within its strict industry requirements -- by offering a better image quality at a lower weight and more compact form factor. Given the high stakes during troubleshooting, he says the products must also provide 6 hours of full operation on a single battery, must allow one-hand operation, and must offer LED light and night modes.

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