Freedom From Security

Enterprises are no longer restricted to the networked systems bounded by the building in which the company is housed. Modern enterprises span the globe and employees can easily access the corporate network from outside the office, opening many more productivity channels. The proliferation of broadband has enabled home working to become an economically viable option while the dramatic fall in the price of laptops allied with the explosion in WiFi technology has made mobile working the norm for many companies.

Recent figures from the UK Labour Force Survey have revealed that over 25% of the UK workforce have taken advantage of the capability to work at home, and Datamonitor recently suggested that 2005 will see 40 million Europeans working from home with the UK leading the trend with 8.3 million home workers. The percentage of the UK workforce regularly using mobile devices such as laptops will undoubtedly dwarf this number, as organisations capitalise on the business benefits mobile working provides. However, with this liberation comes an associated security risk.

The ability for a company to enforce corporate security policy diminishes severely once a computer is used outside of the office. For example, if a worker takes a company laptop for a week, who is responsible for ensuring that corporate security policy is followed when the machine is being used? It is very rare to find an employee who knows what the company security policy is, not to mention understands what the implications might be if it is not followed. So who is going to warn the worker when they forget to upload a critical patch, or decide to disable the anti-virus from time to time, or use an unauthorised instant messaging application, or load games and songs? Who is going to be able to stop the employee’s children from using the laptop to trade files over peer-to-peer software?

The answer, of course, is no one. The user will likely be unaware of the many security threats that are out there, such as spyware, Trojan horses, viruses and worms. They will also be blissfully ignorant of the fact that the next time the device connects to the corporate network the security threat will be passed on to the company.

The cost of network security failure cannot be ignored. Cybercrime cost UK businesses hundreds of millions of pounds in downtime, remediation costs and lost business last year. For example, the Sasser worm that was unleashed at the end of April last year crashed hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide after rapidly spreading over the internet. Sasser did not require users to receive an e-mail message or open a file to be infected. Instead, just having a vulnerable Windows machine connected to the internet was enough to get infected.

Most organisations understand that there are numerous security threats in the wild and have developed and written security policies in an attempt to preserve the integrity of their network, but how many are actually able to enforce the policy? If most employees are unaware of what the company security policy is, let alone understand how to enforce it, then there should be an alternative method of enforcing policy where the “security thinking’ is not the responsibility of each and every worker.

What is vital then is that there is a mechanism in place that prevents vulnerable machines from passing any threat on to the rest of the network. A mechanism that ensures the security policy does its job and that only devices in a trusted state are allowed to connect with the corporate network. Technology is now available that can do just this – “insist’ on the full integrity of any machine before it is allowed to connect to the network. No matter where a device is physically or how it is connected, if its security levels are not compliant with those set out in the security policy then it will be quarantined outside the network until it has automatically been brought up to the required level of protection. This keeps individual machines and the corporate network fully compliant at all times, ensuring that as long as the security policy is watertight, so is the network.

By taking responsibility away from the user and automating the enforcement of security policy, the CIO is provided with the peace of mind that policy is being implemented and maintained on every single machine and employees benefit by being able to focus more closely on their work without having to concern themselves with security matters. In this way full compliance is achieved across all users and a corporate security policy can be truly effective.