In the past, security professionals were tasked with keeping a company’s systems protected, so like a castle they put up walls and fortified the inner defenses the closer one got to sensitive data. It worked great for a while. Then came the road warriors and the teleworkers. No longer were employees’ devices safe and protected behind the walls. They were out in the world unprotected and in need of access to the secrets buried deep within the heart of the network. So along came the VPN, kind of like a carrier pigeon relaying coded messages back and forth. Not too bad for IT administrators when you have only a few operatives outside the office working. Fast forward to today. All of your employees are carrying tablets and smart phones and need to work on spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, while attending little Suzie’s piano recital away from the office. The CEO wants to review the latest widget specs, while he is on the golf course with the president of one of your company’s biggest clients. No one wants to carry around a token and wait to log into some secure tunnel and wait for it to authenticate them everytime they want to access the network. No, they just want immediate access to their data anywhere, anytime. Suddenly those walls are no longer protecting your data. They are holding up progress, and the well-defined edge of your network has been extended to everywhere.
The VPN is not going away, but neither are those walls. There are a swirling myriad of options out there for extending your network’s borders. We have talked about hosted content management services in the cloud and cloud hosted software apps. We have talked about Remote Desktop Services in windows server and even about VPNs before. But making it all seamless and simple for users is the real challenge. For those of you ready to go full tilt into a Microsoft only world, the latest and greatest server and client OS Microsoft has to offer can provide an entire remote access solution. The Microsoft solution provides on-demand, location aware no muss no fuss secure remote access with a technology called Remote Access. There is no direct support for non-Microsoft devices that run Android or iOS. So another solution is needed. If you aren’t ready to move all of your data out onto the cloud, a VPN is still going to be required. Setting up the VPN on everyone’s mobile device and again each time they get a new one is going to be a very time consuming process. Enter MDM or Mobile Device Management. MDM allows you to control and manage devices from multiple vendors using rules and policies like you would Windows desktops within Active Directory on the server. MDM also supports Bring Your Own Device or BYOD and some MDM platforms even allow users to register their devices themselves so they don’t have to involve IT when they switch devices or get a new one. The MDM will configure the VPN on the device and the network admin only had to set it up once.
Before I finish up, I want to interject a bit of news for those people using non-Microsoft devices, like the iPad. In a previous article, I wrote about Remote Desktop Services and mentioned them briefly above. When I wrote about Remote Desktop Services for remote access before, there was no Microsoft Remote Desktop app available for iOS or Android devices, though some 3rd party solutions did exist. Recently, Microsoft released the RD Client for iOS and announced it would soon release an Android version as well. This new app fully supports Microsoft’s latest Remote Desktop technologies. It also is fully touch enabled. When working with a desktop running Windows 8, the RD client will transfer all of the touch gestures Windows 8 recognizes just like you were sitting at that Windows 8 touch enabled device. It is almost ironic that you can turn your iPad into a Windows 8 Tablet using the Remote Desktop app and give users outside your network secure access to their office desktop in just one step.
The old rules of networking have changed. The walls are crumbling, and keeping up with need to access data from anywhere is just as important as keeping that data secure. Now is the time to develop a plan to improve your company’s mobility and flexibility, because if you don’t your competitors will. You don’t want to end up trapped in your castle a prisoner of old technology. Break out, and you and your employees will be free from the chains that bind them to a desk.