by Phoummala Schmitt

Outlook for iOS and Android in its initial release January 29th, 2015 was a hit, within 24 hours became a chart topper in Apple’s App Store. The app was an alternative solution to sync email instead of using the iOS native mail client or other apps such Gmail. As an exchange administrator in the real world the first thought that came to mind was “how safe is this application and can it ensure that my enterprise data will not be compromised?” As more knowledge came to light of how the app works, as discussed on Episode 9 of Current Status podcast with Paul Cunningham, there was definitely a need to be concerned since the app had limited IT controls and security.

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With the lack of device control and possibly corporate credentials stored on unknown servers in the cloud, IT administrator point of view was this app was not ideal for organizations that were concerned about corporate email security. Microsoft has heard the cries about the lack of security and within 2 weeks of the initial released has now launched an update to Outlook for iOS and Android. The update this week has improvements that will allow administrators more control of the application to safeguard corporate email.

The latest release has the following security enhancements into the application:

PIN Lock Password Enforcement – Devices that connect to corporate email using the native Exchange ActiveSync policies can be forced to use a PIN to sync email with the device. PIN enforcement is slightly different between iOS devices and Androids. For iOS 8 devices, PIN enforcement is at the device level, using the native iOS device encryption making it an easier application to use and removes the cumbersome needed to repeatedly enter a PIN to access the application. If the corporate device policies require a PIN, Outlook will check on the device to see if there is a PIN, if not it will display a prompt to setup a PIN. The PIN lock on Android devices will use screen lock rules and encourages encryption if the device does not have it enabled.

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Faster Remote Wipe – The ability to remote wipe on Outlook has been improved so that when administrations send a wipe command it can happen in seconds. The remote wipe function is at the application level so when the wipe command is sent it only removes data inside the application and not anything on the user’s devices. For Enterprise’s that have a BYOD policy and are concerned with wiping user’s personal devices this feature comes very handy.

Additional Features – In addition to improved security Microsoft also added features such as improved gesture controls for Androids and IMAP support. For those users that have email from providers that use IMAP to sync email they now can connect with Outlook for iOS and Android. Outlook can perform a “push” like behavior to the IMAP accounts which can sync the devices every few minutes. There is also improved viewing in the iOS version, where by default emails are organized by conversations but can now be turned off.

Currently Outlook for iOS and Android use Amazon Web Service for its cloud service however it will be moving it to Microsoft Azure in the future. These security enhancements is a clear signal that Microsoft has the Enterprise IT in mind. The Outlook app functions very similar to the desktop version making it a familiar to the user, providing a seamless transition from mobile device to desktop. Adding PIN Lock and a remote wipe that acts like a selective wipe function, only removing data inside the app, makes it very appealing to IT administrators as such this can be an alternative solution from costly Mobile Device Management software. For some Enterprises these security enhancements maybe enough for them to meet their security guidelines, for others they may need to wait until cloud services are moved to Azure. Whichever the case, Outlook has lots of promise and is definitely a game changer for mobile email syncing.

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