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Why a secure perimeter is no longer enough protection for your IT infrastructure

By Sara Barker
Mon 12 Mar 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

When it comes to IT security, the traditional corporate approach has been to build walls around digital assets and restrict user access. Unfortunately, in the new world of cloud platforms and mobility, this approach no longer works.

The problem stems from the fact that the very concept of ‘work’ has fundamentally changed. Where once it was a physical place where people completed their tasks, now it’s become a fluid activity that’s undertaken just about anywhere.

A sales person is as likely to require access to customer files at their office desk as they are in a coffee shop or airport lounge. A senior manager may need to check financial records while working from home or at an international conference.

The devices being used are changing as well. Where office-based PCs were once the standard client device, now everything from laptops and tablets to smartphones and wearables are being used to access corporate applications and data.

The location of the applications and data has also shifted. While some resources are likely to remain within corporate data centers, increasingly they tend to be found on a range of cloud-based platforms.   

The perimeter has crumbled

As a result, the concept of a perimeter-based security strategy no longer makes sense. It’s simply not possible to build a wall around applications and data when both are no longer held centrally. According to research by Microsoft, 85 per cent of organisations already keep sensitive information in the cloud while 80 per cent of employees use non-approved SaaS apps for work.

At the same time, increasing numbers of organisations are moving parts of their IT infrastructures to cloud platforms. As a result, they need to find new and better ways to remain compliant and secure.

The bottom line is that the idea of creating a network and protecting it with a firewall no longer works. Devices being used by staff can directly access cloud services, and potentially sensitive corporate resources, anywhere and anytime.

Around the world, using cloud storage, productivity apps and multiple devices outside the firewall has become the new norm. For this reason, it’s easy to see how vulnerable organisations can become if they continue to leverage a perimeter-based security model.

Instead, they need to adopt a model where digital identity is used as the key method of protecting digital assets regardless of their location or how they are being accessed.

Confirming digital identity

There are three common ways of ensuring the security of corporate applications and data through the use of confirmed digital identity:

Device-based security: This method can be used for managed corporate devices or managed devices that are not compliant with an organisation’s security policies. However, it fails if credentials are obtained through phishing attack or simply a lucky guess.

User-based security: This option can apply to devices that use a user’s username and passcode to access. However, if an unmanaged device or computer that has access to corporate resources is lost or stolen, or user credentials are maliciously obtained, the entire network is at risk.

Multi-factor authentication: This approach is where a user is granted access to their device and company resources only after successfully presenting several separate pieces of validation. These could include something you know (a password), something you have (a security token) and something you are (a thumbprint). This is the most secure of the digital ID methods.

Digital ID is the new perimeter

By improving the way digital IDs are managed and maintained, organisations can use identity as a new security ‘perimeter’ to protect core applications and data. To assist, a range of technology vendors are working on identity management tools and techniques including Centrify, Duo Security, Microsoft, Ping Identity, Okta, Sailpoint and Salesforce.

Many of the new tools can work with existing authentication infrastructures, such as Active Directory, and extend those IDs to cloud services using protocols such as Oauth, SAML and OpenID. Identity thus becomes the one commonality across all devices and can transcend simple user, device or token-based security measures.

Factoring identity management into your security management process is key to creating a secure environment in a mobile, cloud-computing world.

Taking this approach will ensure that only trusted users, using trusted devices and trusted applications, can gain access to corporate data. Digital identity has replaced the perimeter as an organisation’s primary line of cyber defence.

Article by JAMF manager of sales engineering, Justin Krisko.

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