Device security in schools: BYOD for lovers and haters

Choose the right answer: BYOD is…
a) An excellent idea. Why I didn’t come up with that? I could get a bonus.
b) Crap. Did a meteorite hit your head?
c) What the hell is BYOD?

Since the “bring your own device” (BYOD) policy started to be widely implemented in educational institutions in the United States, lovers and haters of this solution have been raising their voices to determine if this really means a deep improvement for education and campus safety.

Let’s take a look at the most common pros and cons about it. Let the fight begins!


  • Coverage: “More and more students are coming to class fully enabled with their own devices. That’s leading many institutions to look at the affordability and accessibility of BYOD,” says Stanford University’s researcher Shaya Fidel, quoted by Campus Technology.

    Even in those institutions where BYOD adoption is still a new trend, the results are making IT experts very happy about it. For example, EdTech Magazine explains that in Minnesota’s Edina public schools “more than 900 high school students bring their own devices to class every day. Although that amounts to just 20 percent of students served, administrators say it equates to having some 30 different mobile computing labs across its campuses.”

  • Save money: Obviously, the institution save a lot of money if everyone brings their own mobile baby to class and it doesn’t need to buy 100, 500 or even 1.000 laptops, and pay for maintenance and upgrading services.
  • Quick use: Students come to class fully enabled with their own devices. They don’t need to spend time on trainings anymore, like a decade ago. Everyone knows their laptop even better than who are many of their classmates. Device owners also knows how to solve many problems, for example, when a document hasn’t correctly downloaded, where is that PDF that you just downloaded and sometimes you can’t find it, or how to use different software at the same time.
  • Upfront cost savings: With BYOD a educational institution doesn’t need to spend time and money researching for mobile options, asking for equipment bids, and purchasing them. According to Campus Technology, Seton Hall University’s CIO Stephen Landry says that “any institution that doesn’t have a budget for mobile devices this year is going to be forced to consider the BYOD model.”
    This source adds that schools are looking for more affordable ways to adapt BYOD for specific applications and usage.
  • Shorter implementation:  “Where a school-supplied mobile initiative can take months to plan, finance, purchase, and implement, the BYOD model can be rolled out within days, if necessary,” Campus Technology explains.


  • Overhaul your network: If everyone -yes, everyone!- is encouraged to bring their own device, IT experts have to upgrade digital infrastructure to support the extra traffic. Jared Lynn, technology coordinator of Illinois PORTA Community Unit School, explains in a dramatic way: “Every single switch had to be replaced.”
  • Different devices, increased possible breaches: It’s simple. The more devices you have in a campus, the more the risk that you’ll have to face in terms of data breaches or hackers attacks. It’s not impossible to build new safety protocols, but isn’t easy because it has to be adapted to every single kind of mobile device (Windows, Android, iOS, etc.). EdTech Magazine stands that “fortunately, administrators say the use of virtualization, well-placed firewalls and other fail-safe measures can help mitigate that risk.”
  • Different levels of connectivity: If everyone is bringing their own equipment, even if there is a standard approach to the type of equipment (all laptops or tablets, for example), it is still pretty much inevitable that the brand and/or configuration of each device will vary and with this comes varying functionality and different speeds of throughput and performance,” Emerging EdTech says.
  • Different operating systems: Device security systems need to work on every operating system. Seton Hall University’s CIO Stephen Landry recommends, in a Campus Technology article, “a standardized operating system across all laptops to accommodate classroom-specific software packages. The other option is to relegate activities to a computer lab, which is far less convenient for students and instructors.”
  • Tech Support: With varying types of equipment, configurations and software levels, come a wide variety of technological headaches. “Pushing out security updates and providing technical support are just some of the areas that can overtax the IT team that’s managing a BYOD model,” Campus Technology stands.
    Related to this, Emerging EdTech explains that “we all know that trying to use apps on the Internet or doing just about anything else with a computer, tablet, or smartphone, can yield plenty of little issues (this is why techies have jobs!), and every variation in configuration brings another potential point of failure of complication.”

So, we think that we can’t tell if BYOD is good or bad by itself. It’s really a matter of internal culture and resources. For example, if your university, college, or high school has a strong IT department and students are using mostly the same kind of mobile devices -at design schools MacBooks are pretty common- you shouldn’t have major problems with BYOD.

But if you -the IT Avengers team- are just a couple of guys that need 30 hour-days to solve all IT issues that your institution suffers, mmmmm, in that case we would give it a second -or even a third- thought.

Or maybe we’re deeply wrong and BYOD should be adopted by any kind of educational institution, what do you think about it? Share your opinion, dude!

About the author

Nicolas Poggi

Nicolas Poggi is the head of mobile research at Prey, Inc., provider of the open source Prey Anti-Theft software protecting eight million mobile devices. Nic’s work explores technology innovations within the mobile marketplace, and their impact upon security. Nic also serves as Prey’s communications manager, overseeing the company’s brand and content creation. Nic is a technology and contemporary culture journalist and author, and before joining Prey held positions as head of indie coverage at TheGameFanatics, and as FM radio host and interviewer at IndieAir.