Is The Digital Perimeter Really Disappearing? Rethinking the IT Borders

Is The Digital Perimeter Really Disappearing? Rethinking the IT Bordersith Human Resources (HR)

Is the digital perimeter disappearing as cybersecurity experts claim? What should the borders of your IT environment look like now with evolving technology and remote workforces? How does identity and access management (IAM) affect the digital perimeter, and what does it look like now? 

Usually, experts describe the digital perimeter of business networks in the same manner as a castle. There are high walls and a moat and drawbridge, and hackers (represented as invading armies) fling themselves in vain at these defenses. Only those who can show proper credentials can lower the drawbridge and enjoy the castle’s amenities and services. 

However, this model doesn’t quite hold up to the reality of evolving hacker tactics in the modern age. Hackers have found new ways to break through the digital perimeter, whether by finding holes in the wall (new attack vectors), leaping over the walls (bypassing logins), or compromising endpoints and passwords (dressing up as trusted people). 

Naturally, some authors claim that the digital perimeter is no more, and that identity and access management represents the next step. But is it really so different? 

The Digital Perimeter and Identity Management

Zero Trust

Never trust, always verify. These words form the foundation of Zero Trust architecture and security philosophy. Even if a known user logs in in perfectly on the first try, that does not mean your network should trust them. 

So Zero Trust operates by asking for verification for every new resource, database, and application a user requests. This can be done via passive authentication factors such as geofencing and time of access request monitoring, or more active factors like biometrics. 

In many ways, Zero Trust resembles and perhaps draws from “step-up authentication” in which the sensitivity of the access request prompts more comprehensive authentication. While the two do work in tandem, the idea of Zero Trust is this: no matter what, you cannot trust users. Any user could be a hacker in disguise. 

In this scenario, the digital perimeter of castle walls hasn’t vanished. Rather, it might be a nesting doll of castles, each embedded in the other. 

This ties into the next aspect of enterprise IT environments and their borders.

Continuous Monitoring and Session Management

An area where the castle model of the digital perimeter fails is with what happens after a user enters. They sign in at the login portal and then… nothing. They have access. No more questions asked. 

For hackers, this is the perfect scenario. All they need is a set of credentials to enter and from there the sky’s the limit (quite literally with privilege escalation). Businesses can’t allow this sort of unfettered access, but they also need to exercise caution. Creating obtrusive or obnoxious login parameters can prompt users to develop workarounds. While these might be well-meaning, they open the doors to external threat actors. 

Thus you need to embrace continuous monitoring by embracing behavioral analytics and biometrics. These technologies establish baselines for users by recording their typing behaviors, their activities, and their interactions. If a user begins violating these baselines, the tool alerts security teams for investigation and remediation. 

A leopard can’t change its spots and a hacker can’t pretend to be a productive team member. 

Remote Work and the Shifting of Borders

COVID-19 has completely changed the business landscape, among several other landscapes. Enterprises had to embrace a work-from-home model of work to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. On the one hand, this has led to a lot of businesses recognizing the benefits of a work-from-home model in terms of productivity and employee happiness. 

On the other hand, it also brought with it new identity management challenges and challenges with maintaining a digital perimeter. How can you maintain strong digital borders if employees can log in in from anywhere?

The secret of course is to rebuild your network to accommodate the new reality. Tools like VPNs and remote device monitoring help reduce the chances of employees accidentally having their messages intercepted or their devices compromised outside the network. Of course, traditional identity management struggles to tackle these challenges. 

Therefore, for a stronger digital perimeter that fits with a more IAM focus, you need something next generation. Thankfully, we offer a Buyer’s Guide on Identity Management which can help.

Ben Canner