Put users in the zone to enable secure BYOD

Opinion by Ian Lowe

In the world of enterprise security, what used to be a fairly contained universe - with the ability to put effective controls at critical physical and online entry points — is now an exploding, constantly expanding target.

In the world of enterprise security, what used to be a fairly contained universe – with the ability to put effective controls at critical physical and online entry points — is now an exploding, constantly expanding target.

The new landscape many enterprises and government organisations are facing is a mobile one; where employees, partners, customers and other constituents want to access resources from anywhere, at any time, using the latest mobile devices they have at hand to conduct their business.

While organisations recognise the opportunities and productivity gains that can be garnered from anywhere, anytime access, they are struggling to effectively support and secure it.

In this new era of mobile working, convenience is king – but this must not be at the expense of security. Mobile devices and tablets, which are being used to access enterprise resources and cloud applications, can make for highly attractive targets.

Against a backdrop of increasing mobile malware, advanced persistent threats (APTs) and highly motivated, sophisticated attackers, enterprises and government organisations must be able to secure mobile access – it cannot be the weak link. At the same time maintaining the privacy of users and their personal data within a mobile access control environment is also important.

Creating separate secure areas, or zones, for personal data and work data is a potential solution. This concept of developing separate zones based on the classification of data enables organisations to secure corporate assets residing on personal mobile devices by first creating a remotely-managed zone inside the device that is encrypted. Then, according to policy, the organisation can limit the interaction between the zone containing corporate data and the rest of the device.

All applications and other ID credentials are completely segregated between personal and enterprise use. An added layer of security is typically applied using strong two-step/factor authentication to access the applications and data residing within this separate corporate zone. 

Segregating employee-essential corporate data into an encrypted zone creates a clear and secure partition between personal and business information. By demarcating the data available and further pre-determining user access rights depending on operational needs, businesses can effectively maintain control and manage data in these mobile environments, while remaining confident in the knowledge that only their intended parties can view it.

Importantly, the parameters of this zone can be drawn and redrawn by the policy-makers based on a behavioural understanding of each user in the identity database, which can ensure a more consistent and secure user experience. Additionally, the employee can be assured that their personal data is protected and will not be erased should they leave the organisation.

Recent research from Forrester demonstrated that 60 per cent of corporate data breach incidents are down to unwitting employees, whether through ‘inadvertent misuse', loss or theft of resources. As such, buffering a policy of separate data and application zones with a layered secure access and authentication approach can serve to offer an organisation true end-to-end mobile security and prevent the risk of data leakage.

With corporate resources no longer residing behind the traditional security firewall, taking equal account of people, property and assets enables an organisation to be better coordinated in their approach to managing user identities and access privileges in the workplace.

Of course, due to the diversity of the user population and the multitude of devices in use to access business data, a one-size-fits-all approach to data security is often neither possible, nor indeed practical. A solid security policy must therefore be built on determining exactly who is accessing the information and whether they have permission to do so.

From a mobile perspective, there are three possible elements to identity authentication that can be implemented alongside a policy of creating separate zones for corporate data. The first is authenticating to the device itself – for example, when a user turns on their phone and punches in a PIN to start using it.

The second is authenticating to access the resources that are either on a mobile device or accessible by that device, while a third option could be authentication to the enterprise application or data zone.

Best practices state that two-step/factor authentication measures should be applied in this case. Two-factor authentication, which has typically been confined to physical one-time password tokens (OTPs), can now be delivered through ‘soft tokens' held on mobile devices.

To streamline access to information via a single device, these tokens can, in turn, be layered with token-less (no token) security solutions – such as behaviour and tap-in authentication from an existing access card and NFC-enabled mobile or tablet.

It is against the background of modern security threats – from unauthorised access risk trends such as bring your own device to the relentless activity of external hackers – that adoption of a practical solution such as creating separate zones for corporate data and applications can become central to the security of the business as a whole.

Without encroaching on end-users time as they access systems and information, layered security and ‘zoning data' reduces the risk of identity fraud, manages users' expectations and offers businesses a practical way of balancing the need for access with security and regulatory requirements.

Ian Lowe is senior enterprise solutions manager of identity assurance at HID Global


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