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Mobile and remote working trend poses fresh security challenges.

Wick Hill : 12 March, 2008  (Technical Article)
Ian Kilpatrick examines why the move towards remote and mobile working seems to be an unstoppable trend.
Research by and market intelligence company Rhetorik has found that the penetration of mobile workers across the UK workforce is significant with nearly a quarter of all organisations considered more than half their staff to be mobile workers.

Mobility, the research found, is an upward trend with nearly two-thirds of the research sample reporting an increasing proportion of mobile workers.

Mobility is clearly where users and companies want to go and it undoubtedly has major benefits. It brings freedom and reduced costs, but you still need to secure it. Security deployment, as is often the case, has lagged behind the rapid growth of technology and a significant number of staff are now working outside the protection of the company network gateway.

Organisations worry that mobile working will get beyond their control and cause problems both inside and outside the gateway, resulting in data loss and introducing malware.

They are increasingly keen to ensure that the same policies and security they deploy at their corporate gateway are also provided for their mobile users. This is for compliance and legal requirements, as well as for security reasons. Another issue around mobile use, very topical at the moment, is that of organisations wanting to protect against data leakage and data loss, from such problems as stolen or mislaid laptops.

There is no one hard and fast solution to securing mobile and remote workers. Strong two-factor authentication, which ensures the identity of the mobile user connecting to the network or using the laptop/mobile device, is a basic requirement. Static passwords are woefully inadequate, with huge identity theft risks (particularly for wireless).

Low-cost strong authentication solutions are available from vendors such as CRYPTOCard and VASCO.

Increased remote working implies increased security at the end points and there is a wide range of solutions available including remote firewalls and specific end point solutions, which can be administered centrally. Such solutions can extend network protection strategies to mobile and remote users. They can also ensure that firewall, anti-virus and security patches are used by remote and mobile users when they should be.

Check Point provides 'End Security', an end point security solution which combines a firewall, network access control, program control, anti-virus, anti-spyware, data security and remote access. It allows security policies at end points to be viewed and modified from a single management console.

Branch offices can install low-cost remote unified threat management systems (UTMs) that incorporate VPNs and the head office, providing the same levels of gateway protection as there is at the centre, can centrally administer these, typically. SSL VPNs can provide security of data in transit for mobile users connecting into head office or between branches.

Solutions such as WatchGuard's Firebox SOHO Edge (available in wired and wireless versions) and Check Point's UTM-1 Appliance are UTMs suitable for remote/branch offices which combine a firewall, VPN, zero day protection, anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam, intrusion prevention and URL filtering.

Low cost encryption can protect remote laptop users and safeguard against data loss. In the past, poor performance and high costs prevented the use of encryption software, but today's high performance and low cost solutions make it impossible to justify not encrypting laptops. Low cost solutions from encryption specialists such as Utimaco can protect network data, laptops and removable media.

Finally, wireless is high risk and all mobile wireless traffic should be over VPNs and be encrypted, with the use of strong authentication.

Ian Kilpatrick is chairman of Wick Hill Group, specialists in secure infrastructure solutions.
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