Fences can't protect you

Secure "islands" will keep data out of the wrong hands

Secure "islands" will keep data out of the wrong hands

Increasing globalisation and the rise in outsourcing mean that large IT departments are under more pressure than ever before. The need to communicate with partners and subcontractors as easily as with parts of the company highlights the scalability problems that can arise from perimeter security.

Maintaining a unified, global, IT network is becoming unsustainable. From a security standpoint, it places an enormous burden on the perimeter to the point where the controls become ineffective at providing the necessary level of IT security. Attempting to maintain security rapidly becomes a constraint on business growth and flexibility.

Opening up holes in the security wall to allow access by customers and business partners weakens the wall itself. Moreover, a perimeter wall cannot provide security inside the network once an attacker gets past.

Some new thinking is required. The high degree of interconnection within business networks means there is too much to watch and too little time to react. With so many external computer systems being allowed access to business critical systems, it is essential that access to valuable information is restricted to the right people and the right servers.

Widespread adoption of cryptography can provide the flexibility and security required to protect private, valuable information, both at rest and in transit. Cryptography can protect credit card details, medical records, intellectual property or competitive information from those without the authority to view or change it.

Through digital signatures, cryptography can help establish the authenticity of information. Technologies such as SSL enable secure interaction between interconnected, individually trustworthy "islands", preventing data from being viewed or altered by anyone other than the intended recipient.

Authorisation and access control decisions can be made locally and are uniformly based on the distribution and management of cryptographic keys, rather than by making disparate changes to various systems and networks that house critical information.

Although cryptography is well-established, its use has often been limited to isolated and specialised applications. However, many large organisations are recognising the need to break down complex and costly IT infrastructures and to replace them with islands of secured information to which only trusted partners, customers and suppliers have access.

It is only by improving the flow of accurate and sensitive information and by simplifying IT infrastructures that a large and complex business can survive and prosper.

Nicko van Someren is chief technology officer at nCipher

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