Wearable Tech at Work: Great Idea or Security Nightmare?

by Elizabeth Dukes on January 21, 2016

From smartwatches to activity trackers, health monitors to augmented reality headsets, the growth of wearables over the last two years has been nothing short of explosive—and tech leaders aren’t predicting a slowdown anytime soon. These items can help us work smarter and live healthier and more fulfilling lives. They can revolutionize the workplace in myriad ways by increasing productivity, efficiency and space utilization. Unfortunately, they also can disrupt it in the worst way possible—by threatening cybersecurity.

Each new device that enters your building and communicates through your network represents yet another vulnerability point. But even if you prohibit BYOD in your workspace, you’re not going to solve the problem. While banning wearables may help decrease risk, it won’t eliminate it completely. Furthermore, it could suffocate innovation.

Quite simply: Wearables are here to stay. Today we’re going to talk about how you can make them work in your favor while decreasing security risks.

Why are Wearables Dangerous?

wearable-tech-at-work.jpgIf we learned anything in 2015, it’s that no one is safe from cyber criminals. From small mom-and-pop shops to giant corporations (and even the U.S. government), hackers have repeatedly proven their level of skill and sophistication.

More often than not, a breach is as simple as gaining access to a company’s network through a connection point and siphoning data. And, of course, wearables are ultra-connected—usually through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The apps users download onto their devices can be exploited by cyber criminals, including seemingly innocuous applications like email and messaging software. Without the proper processes in place, wearables can present a proverbial smorgasbord of access points to hungry hackers.

Why Shouldn’t We Ban Wearables?

As the old cliche says, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, wearables can offer hackers an easy way to access your network and get their hands on your sensitive data. But, they’re also chock-full of opportunities to help your employees improve the way they work and enhance workforce mobility. With the growth of the Internet of Things, wearables act as critical communication tools that supply a wealth of data.

For example, your employees’ wearables could help you better map out space utilization and increase energy efficiency. As they become more sophisticated, wearables will have the power to help employees feel more connected to their environment, communicate more freely and automate menial tasks. In fact, according to a survey of more than 9,000 adults across the United States, Mexico, Australia, China and France, 73 percent believe wearables will benefit the workplace.

So what can you do to make use of these devices and also benefit? Here are three tips

1. Create a BYOD Policy

Whether or not you like it, your employees are bringing their own devices into the workspace. While they may not lug around their own personal laptop, they may bring in their own tablet and likely use their own smartphone on your property. Wearables are even less detectable. Today’s smartwatches and health monitoring devices are easily disguised as everyday jewelry. So if you’re thinking an all-out ban on personal devices will be effective, you’re sorely mistaken.

BYOD (bring your own device) is a policy many modern businesses have adopted to help regulate personal devices. Allowing employees to use their own devices can also cut down on equipment costs.

As you build out your BYOD policy to include wearables, here are a few process steps to include:

  • System-wide encryption. Encryption will help ensure unauthorized personnel cannot decipher internal messages.
  • Device recognition. This will prevent employees from adding sensitive data to unauthorized devices. For example, a team member couldn’t connect a Bluetooth device without clearing it with your IT team ahead of time.
  • Education. One of the best ways to help protect your business is to educate employees on best practices. Because not only do poor choices put your company at risk, they also put personal identities at risk. Explain how to properly vet applications and where to go if they’re unsure about a decision.

This brings us to the next point.

wearable-tech-workspace.jpg2. Secure All Data

“There are only two types of companies,” said former FBI Director Robert Mueller. “Those that have been hacked and those that will be.”

It’s a startling statement, but also important to consider. In 2014 alone, there were more than 317 million new malware viruses or software created, and it only takes one false move (or one unprotected wearable device) to jeopardize everything. While there’s no 100 percent effective way to stop a data breach, there are ways you can protect your valuable information and reduce your risk. In addition to encryption, device recognition and education, here are a few best practices to consider:

  • Restrict sensitive data to only individuals who need it.
  • Do background checks on all individuals accessing your sensitive data.
  • Use a secure wireless connection, and create a separate connection for guests.
  • Regularly update antivirus and anti-spyware software.
  • Ensure all employees update passwords every 90 days.
  • Use a “containerized” approach for wearables, such as permitting email alerts to be sent to smartwatches, but not full email access.

3. Integrate Wearables Into Your Process

It’s no longer a matter of if wearables will become critical to business, but when. The sooner you prepare, the more likely you are to stay ahead of the curve and achieve that coveted innovative leader spot.

So, how can you begin implementing wearables? Here are a few applications:

  • Logistics. Identify where inventory and supplies are by equipping distribution personnel with wearable geo-tracking devices, and enjoy more sophisticated shipping and arrival estimates.
  • Wellness. Fewer sick days? Sounds like a win-win for everyone. Fitness trackers will help your employees pay more attention to their personal health, and many insurance companies will reduce policy premiums for companies that participate in wellness programs.
  • Security. We just spent most of this blog discussing ways wearables can threaten security, but they can also be used to enhance it. For example, instead of using a passcode to enter restricted areas, employees can be outfitted with devices pre-set with their level of security clearance.
  • Space management. Using wearables, businesses can collect data about how, where and when space is used and forecast needs for the future. This leads to less space waste and better planning.

Wearable devices are a great opportunity for businesses to obtain, track and analyze data. But, like any new technology, they come with a unique set of drawbacks and advantages. By better understanding the pros and cons of wearables, you can prepare for the future workplace and ensure you and your team are taking full advantage.

Wearables are part of the future workplace, but what else is in store? Download our free eBook, Wide Open Workspace to learn more about tomorrow’s workforce!


Elizabeth Dukes

Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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