"Protect Data Not Devices", seems quite an intriguing proposition given the increased number of smart phone devices in circulation and the issues that Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) seems to be causing, for heads of security up and down the land. But here is my thinking. The term 'devices' now covers a multitude of areas. Desktop PC's of course (do they still exist?!), laptops and net books, smart phones and not-so-smart phones, are all the tools of the trade, for accessing the services and data you own, or want to consume, either for work or for pleasure. The flip side of that is the servers, mainframes, SAN's, NAS's and cloud based infrastructures that store and process data. The consistent factor is obviously the data that is being stored and managed, either in-house or via outsourced services.
Smarter the Device, The More Reliant We Become
This is a pretty obvious statement and doesn't just apply to phones. As washing machines became more efficient and dishwashers became cheaper and more energy saving, we migrated in droves, allowing our time to be spent on other essential tasks. The same is true for data accessing devices. As phones morphed in to micro desktop PC's, we now rely on them for email, internet access, gaming, social media, photography and so on. Some people even use this thing called the telephone on them. Crazy. As the features and complexity ramp up, we no longer need another device for listening to music, taking pictures or accessing Facebook. Convenience and service provision increases, as does the single-point-of-failure syndrome and our reliance on them being available 99.999% of the time, up to date and online.
Smarter the Device, The Less Important It Becomes
Now this next bit seems a bit of a paradox. As the devices becomes smarter, greater emphasis is placed on the data and services those devices access. For example. A fancy Facebook client is pretty useless if only 100 people use Facebook. A portable camera is just that, unless you have a social outlet for which to distribute the images. The smartness of the devices themselves, is actually driven by the services and data they need to access. Smartphones today come with a healthy array of encryption features, remote backup, remote data syncing for things like contacts, pictures and music, as well device syncing software like Dropbox. How much data is actually specifically related to the device? In theory nothing. Zip. Lose your phone and everything can be flashed back down in a few minutes, assuming it was set up correctly. Want to replace a specific model and brand with a model of equivalent specification from a different vendor? Yep you can do that too, as long as you can cope with a different badge on the box. Feature differentiation is becoming smaller, as the technology becomes more complex.
Data Access versus Data Storage
As more and more services become out sourced (or to use the buzz of being moved to the 'cloud'), the storage part becomes less of a worry for the consumer. The consumer could easily be an individual or an organisation. Backup, syncing, availability, encryption and access management all fall to the responsibility of the outsourced data custodian. Via astute terms and conditions and service level agreements, the consumer shifts responsibility across to the data custodian and service provider.
The process of accessing that data then starts to fall partly on the consumer. How devices connect to a network, how users authenticate to a device and so on, all fall to the device custodian. Access traffic encryption will generally require a combination of efforts from both parties. For example, the data custodian will manage SSL certificates on their side, whilst the consumer has a part to play too.
So to slightly contradict my earlier point (!), this is where the device is really the egress point to the data access channel, and so therefore requires important security controls to access the device. The device itself is still only really a channel to the data at the other end, but once an individual (or piece of software, malicious or not) has access to a device, they then in turn can potentially open access channels to outsourced data. The device access is what should be protected, not necessarily the tin itself.
As devices become smarter and service providers more complex, that egress point moves substantially away from the old private organisational LAN or equivalent. The egress point is the device regardless of location on a fixed or flexible network.
Data will become the ultimate prize not necessarily the devices that are used to access it.
By Simon Moffatt