Identity as the Perimeter

03 Sep

The perimeter of an enterprise has been its LAN and WAN for quite a number of years. The popularity of VPN based remote access did extend the definition of an enterprise’s perimeter to the remote presence of its employees, albeit for short bursts of time more often than not.

As trends like Cloud based services and BYOD emerged, enterprises have this daunting challenge of protecting their data. In the new age network, data gets hosted (e.g. public cloud services) and accessed (e.g. laptops and phones) on devices that are beyond the firewalls of an enterprise. Moreover, employees want more and more flexibility towards accessing data – at wherever they are and on whatever they carry.

RSA‘s Jason wrote this blog post in which he describes the (potentially outdated) strategy of one of the Information Security persons he met – take out access to anything that has a hint of risk. Jason identifies the problem as well as side effects of that approach.

Here are the key assumptions enterprises need to make regarding their data:

  • Data takes multiple forms: e.g. Email, documents, code, tools, configurations and employee personal data
  • Each form of data might need different levels of access in terms of confidentiality and integrity: e.g. read-only, read-write for owner, write-once, privileged read-only and limited access
  • Data gets hosted at multiple locations (often beyond the firewalls of the enterprise): e.g. E-mail service provider, private data centers, private clouds, shared public clouds
  • Data gets accessed from multiple locations (often beyond the firewalls of the enterprise): e.g. desktops, laptops, phones, and to take it a step forward, TVs and car infotainment systems capable of reading your email.

Centrify‘s Tom Kemp shares his thoughts on making identity as the new perimeter. Making identity as the new perimeter has potential to provide solutions to many of the challenges arising out of the assumptions we listed above for the enterprise.

  • Identity controlled by an enterprise can be made to control access to data that takes different forms.
  • Enterprises can use single sign on (SSO) solutions that go beyond two factor authentication to provide on-demand access to data using identity as the primary factor
  • SSO solutions make it easy for the enterprises to control identity driven access consistently across multiple service providers like public clouds, internal data centers, private clouds.
  • SSO solutions, combined with device remote access/control solutions make it easy for enterprises to control the life of data persisted on nomadic devices like phones. This helps when a device is no longer tied to the same identity.

There is lot of mindshare building around managing identity and making it as a primary factor in access management. As Jason observes in his article, identity should be managed well beyond making it a two factor authentication. Context should be clubbed with identity to make more meaningful decisions for giving access to privileged information. That requires wiring several identity management and analytics products together for dynamically determining access levels.

Google already does this for its own services. If you login from a unusual location, device and application, it has the ability to enforce additional steps in determining the identity. I am really impressed (but not at all surprised) by Google’s ability to take it to not just the location and device level, but also application level. For example, Google maintains analytics data about your favorite browser on your desktop for accessing drive and if you change it, it notifies (and often counters you with additional checks, depending on context) you about that change.

I take Google’s approach as an exemplary first step in driving the identity with augmented data around context. As identity management solutions evolve, enterprises can bank on independent and collaborating solutions that determine identity. The collaboration among these solutions would be around determining the context of the user and making decisions around whether the identity can be determined unambiguously within that context. As the definition of perimeter evolves to center more around identity, these emerging trends in identity management are both welcome and necessary.




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