May 11 2012

Why Jailbroken Devices Are a Security Risk and How MDM Can Detect Them

Enterprises need to be on the lookout for jailbroken devices as they potentially put corporate data at risk.

Mobile devices have a number of built-in security controls that protect user data. Depending on the platform, these may include the restriction of applications to those installed through a centralized app store; limiting the capabilities of apps to access the underlying operating system; and preventing external connections to the device. Naturally, some power users dislike these controls, and the Internet is full of sites offering advice on how they can remove these restrictions by “jailbreaking” their devices.

As one might expect, jailbreaking mobile devices introduces a number of security concerns:

  • Jailbroken devices may be able to bypass the security controls that would otherwise be enforced by an MDM solution.
  • Vendor-issued security updates to a mobile device’s operating system may not be available to jailbroken devices.
  • Jailbroken devices may be able to run actions prohibited — for legitimate security reasons — on unaltered devices, including what’s known as a secure shell or SSH daemon that accepts inbound connections.
  • Jailbroken devices may also allow the “sideloading” of apps not allowed by the enterprise.

Without an MDM platform, IT administrators have no way of knowing if a user has jailbroken a device without physically inspecting it. But with MDM, IT managers can detect unapproved operating system configurations on altered mobile devices and can respond in a number of ways, ranging from removing enterprise data from the device to requiring that the user return the device for reimaging to a secure baseline configuration.

For more information on mobile-device management, read the CDW white paper, "Mobile Device Management: Not What It Used to Be."