This week Jude O'Reilley, director of product marketing at Aventail, considers solutions to address the new age of remote access in a world where IT may not control the network, user or desktop.
In the past, IT people delivered access across networks that they trusted to people who worked for their company on machines that they managed.
This was the extent of so-called remote access and was based on the assumptions that the organisation owned or greatly influenced the network (dial-up), the people (employees) and the end-points (the corporate machines).
But today all of these conditions have changed while the assumptions and many of the technologies have stayed the same. And this presents a big problem if you're a chief information officer (CIO) challenged with extending and managing remote access to more people and places and across more networks.
The network is the part of the problem that's had the most attention. The fact is that we no longer control the network; it's now the wild and unmanageable internet.
So, faced with the world's least private network, companies set about making it 'virtually private' by combining encryption technology with Internet Protocol (IP) and so was born the IPSec virtual private network (VPN).
The problem is that this solution assumed that desktops and people would stay the same. They didn't. Once you factor in connecting business partners, privacy isn't the only problem after all.
And when your employees want to access corporate applications from their home PCs or from someone else's network, remotely deployed and managed VPN clients aren't an appropriate or practical solution.
A semi-regular debate in security circles is whether or not employees are trustworthy. Statistics show that more security breaches come from within organisations rather than from external threats.
Yet there appears to be limited action to take measures that would reduce this problem.
However, the broader question - what actually defines an employee - is almost never asked. It's no longer a simple case of who is on the payroll. In practice, anybody that has a real business need for wide access to IT systems and resources is a virtual employee.
It's probably OK that this line has blurred as businesses have increasingly complex relationships, but traditional VPN or remote access technologies don't allow us to manage this complexity.
We need a way to manage granular access control across employees, contractors, business partners, joint ventures or any other category that our business says needs access.
In most organisations there's a notion of the standard corporate desktop. Seasoned IT people will smile knowingly about the corporate desktop image, a dream of CIOs and call centre employees to have one common desktop to deploy and manage.
But in today's virtual organisations many of the new corporate desktops that IT is being asked to provide access from are neither corporate nor standard.
They may include the chief executive's home computer, mobile PDAs used by high-flying salespeople and the cyber-cafe or airport kiosk for roaming executives.
The exceptions to the traditional corporate desktop are mounting and this is a real problem for the IPSec VPN vendors. Even if remote clients could be provided for each of these new platforms, which IT person would want the support burden?
The solution emerging to address the new age of remote access in a world where IT may not control the network, the user or the desktop, is called the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) VPN.
An SSL VPN provides authorised and secure access for end-users to web, client/server and file sharing resources. Unlike traditional VPNs, authorisation is a fundamental part of the SSL VPN solution: the ability to apply granular access control.
Because of this, SSL VPNs are capable of managing access for business partners, customers, suppliers and employees.
Moreover, SSL enables IT to exploit the potential and ubiquity of the browser. SSL VPNs provide client-less access often by using Java, with or without terminal services, to access a full range of enterprise applications.
Analyst organisations see enormous potential for SSL VPNs in the remote access and extranet space, possibly the first bridge ever across those two problem areas.
Analysts at Gartner, Meta Group and Infonetics predict a big future for SSL VPNs within the next couple of years, with many corporates using a thin-client VPN, instead of a full, fat-client VPN.
Networks are now more public, desktops less manageable and end-users more complex than ever before.
No technology can solve these challenges by trying to change them. Instead, SSL VPN delivers a route to secure access by embracing them.
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