The only way for ecommerce companies to secure their networks is to open it, according to analysts at Giga Information Group this week.
Firewalls are too inflexible and can shut out potential customers, although they do diffuse the threat of hackers, Giga analyst Steve Hunt told attendees at the company's Secure Networks conference in San Francisco.
He said: "It used to be a 'them and us' situation. Everyone inside the firewall was trusted and everyone outside was not. We can't let firewalls make all our decisions. Instead we have to open our doors."
Hunt used the analogy of a hotel. Everyone can enter a hotel and walk along the hallways but only certain people can enter private areas.
He continued: "Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a way of opening the perimeter and if you take the concept of VPNs and add authentication and authorisation you have a useful tool to softening the boundary to enable ecommerce."
There are many options to provide easy but secure access to corporate Web sites depending on the identity of the visitor. Employees are "high maintenance" noted Hunt, meaning they need access to many different areas and so they could be issued with passwords, smartcards, digital certificates or personal identification number (PIN) tokens, or be authorised using biometrics technologies.
However some of these options are currently prohibitive. Biometrics technologies have not been fully tested, PIN tokens need a support infrastructure and digital certificates are not user friendly. Certificates are made up of long numbers and users are likely to write them down somewhere, which defeats the object, warned Hunt.
He believes smart cards and public key infrastructures (PKIs) will be popular in the future but in the meantime companies will use PIN tokens.
Said Hunt: "Microsoft's operating system for smartcards will be widely used and deployed but Java APIs (application programming interfaces) will be mostly deployed because Microsoft applications will be ported to Java. The reason is that Java programmers like to port everything."
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