Many of us find ourselves processing email while on the road. In fact, sitting on a plane, or while waiting for one, is probably the best time to catch up on a stuffed inbox.
However, when we’re away from the office, we’re at our most vulnerable point with respect to viruses and malware. While we’re away, we access the Internet via insecure public networks (hotel rooms, coffee shops etc.), which lay us wide open to infection from the Internet as well as others using the same network. We have to learn how to negotiate with our desktop firewalls and configure our VPN client software, and many of us get so frustrated that we have learned to bypass these obstacles, even if it means that we compromise on security.
This is not only a problem for individuals — it is a problem for companies, too. After you’ve taken your laptop on the road and possibly got it infected with malware or spyware, what do you think can happen when you return to the office and connect to the company network? I still have vivid memories of being hit by the Code Red virus in 2001 in a hotel room over a dial-up connection, despite my up-to-date anti-virus program. Had I not realized immediately that my machine was infected, it would have attacked my company’s network from the inside when I got back to the office. I also know first-hand of at least one incident at a major US corporation where an employee returned from a business trip and started a virus outbreak the minute he connected his laptop to the network.
Conventional thinking has it that productivity and security are like a see-saw; if productivity goes up, security goes down, and vice-versa. Microsoft could not have been as successful with their operating systems and Office products had they been overly concerned about security from the outset, instead of focusing on usability.
This poses a rather challenging paradox:
- Laptop security needs to be considerably beefed up, to a level that is on a par with the security policy enforced by the corporate network gateway appliances.
- At the same time, this security needs to be so easy to use, that it becomes the path of least resistance — it must be totally transparent to the end user, just like the appliances that filter traffic at the corporate gateway.
I’m currently beta testing Yoggie Gatekeeper, a pocket-sized appliance that solves this exact conundrum. It connects to your laptop’s network port or USB interface and scans all incoming and outgoing network traffic. It is one of the simplest appliances I’ve ever used — literally plug and play. It is packed full of enterprise grade security scanners: firewall, intrusion detection/prevention system (IDS/IPS), anti-virus, anti-spam, anti-phishing, web filtering. I’m not going to get into the technical stuff — that’s available at www.yoggie.com.
For companies, it allows central management of the security policy, allowing the administrator to guarantee a high level of security, and do this completely transparently as far as the end user is concerned. It also contains a VPN client, so the user won’t ever have to fiddle with the network settings, and shouldn’t have any problem accessing corporate resources over the Internet. It can even provide a very convenient way to deploy a VPN, for those companies that have not yet done so.
By offloading much of the security processing to the Yoggie Gatekeeper, which includes a powerful processor and 128MB of RAM, there are significant benefits to be had:
- Performance: your laptop does waste resources on performing VPN encryption and decryption — this is done by the Yoggie Gatekeeper. Your desktop anti-virus and other security systems can remain tuned for the same level of security they provide when you’re inside the relative safety of the corporate network, i.e. not too aggressive, but powerful enough to provide an extra layer of insulation, just in case. This leaves maximum resources available to get your job done.
- Security: a layer of hardware between your laptop and the network can go a long way to insulate your laptop from attack — the Yoggie Gatekeeper will take the knocks instead of the laptop.
Yoggie Gatekeeper is expected to be available by the beginning of 2007 and will cost around $200 per unit. The value to companies is clear, but on an individual level, just being able to sit in a coffee shop and surf the internet with a carefree smile is well worth it.
[Disclosure: On the strength of a long-standing relationship with the makers of the Yoggie Gatekeeper, and a common background in security appliances (I used to manage a security appliance product line), I received a free unit to test. My only obligation is a gentleman’s agreement to supply the people at Yoggie with regular and detailed feedback, which I’m very happy to do. I am under no obligation to write about it, and if I choose to write about it, I’m not subject to any restrictions.]