3 tablet kiosk security requirements you can't overlook

Feb. 25, 2013 | by Brad Hintze

Tablets are beginning to drive huge shifts in the way businesses are connecting and interacting with their customers. It is no wonder that tablets are beginning to make way into new use cases — they are cost-effective, beautiful and it is easy to get rich and engaging content.

Look at the success of Apple retail stores as an indicator of the utility and value in using tablets. At the core of the store concept is the digital signage powered by an iPad placed next to every major product offered by Apple. It is such an important part of their store success that Apple even filed a patent to protect it.

Because tablets were designed primarily as personal mobile devices, the security and interaction models for the tablet and the apps have been built around the idea that the owner of the device and the user are one and the same person. On your personal tablet, you manage the Wi-Fi settings, you install and open apps, and you make sure you have the right content.

But when you use a tablet as a kiosk, the device owner and the device user no longer are the same person with the same goals or concerns. A tablet placed out in public or for multiple users separates the owner of the device from the user of the device. While the physical security requirements are obvious, there are three more security considerations that need to be addressed for a secure and successful tablet kiosk: Locking the tablet in to only your app; blocking access to tablet settings; and the necessary features within the app to protect customer data.

Locking the tablet to only your app

As for locking a tablet to only one app, there are only a few tools emerging to do so. On the iPad you can use Guided Access or App Lock. Guided Access is quick-and-dirty, but it isn't a very scalable solution as you have to enable it on every iPad and customers can play with the home button and bring up the passcode dialog. Guided Access is really best for temporary kiosks that you can still manage directly.

Another way to lock an iPad to a single app is App Lock, a new feature that was released with iOS 6. App Lock has several benefits over Guided Access in that it can be applied and removed remotely, so you have greater control over which app the tablet is locked in to and when it is locked down. Another big benefit of App Lock is that when the user hits the home button, there is no feedback or passcode prompt to ruin the experience. However, in order for App Lock to work, the iPad must be placed in Supervisor mode through Apple Configurator. You wouldn't want to place personal devices in Supervisor mode, but it's excellent for kiosks.

Limiting Access to Device Settings

When you place a tablet out as a kiosk you don't want customers to be able to change settings on the tablet itself. Customers who are familiar with iOS or Android could easily get in and make a mess of your kiosk by disconnecting Wi-Fi, removing apps, adding a passcode or more. For iOS you can use the App Lock method mentioned above to keep customers in your app only. Even if they manage to crash the app it automatically starts again so they cannot get into any other parts of the tablet. For Android, there are options to root the tablet or to leverage a handful of tools available to put it in to kiosk mode.

Protecting Customer Data

One more security aspect to your kiosk is data that is entered or generated by your users. This is not a concern for most mobile apps because users install the app and generally are the only one that uses the app. However, when you place a tablet out as a kiosk it could be used by any number of customers, each intentionally or unintentionally leaving data behind. When you start putting your kiosk together, make sure your app provides your customers with a way to clear all of their private data or automatically wipe any data after each use.

Topics: Mobile , Security , Software , Tablets

Brad Hintze / Brad is VP of marketing at MokiMobility, a platform for remotely managing and monitoring of iPad and Android tablet kiosks.
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