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Avoiding a Mesh Mess

Factor in security with Microsoft's new Live Mesh

Microsoft’s recently announced Live Mesh is a technology that promises to dramatically change personal computing. It may provide a level of personal portability that most of us have never imagined. But with this portability comes risk.

Live Mesh provides significant user and collaborative advantages to enterprises, so it is not something that will likely be successfully blocked. The clock is ticking on creating a policy that embraces Live Mesh and ensures the technology is used for, and not against, you.

Every promising technology comes with some risk, of course, and with a technology that moves stuff seamlessly everywhere, the risk is pronounced with Live Mesh. Live Mesh untethers the information associated with a user from any specific piece of hardware, allowing it eventually to not only move to other PC’s, but to smart phones, alternative platforms (Linux/MacOS), and to virtual PCs located in the cloud.

Live Mesh service effectively functions not only as a personality manager and repository, but also as a kind of an ultra-cache. That way, for example, employees can separate from the Web and still continue to use network-based resources and potentially put a lot of sensitive data on their desktop or laptop as well as their less-secure phones and other systems. Bottom line: control over the data may be lost.

And if someone were to gain unauthorized access to Live Mesh, he or she could capture the user’s entire identity, grabbing passwords to both corporate and personal data.

But there are some security advantages with Live Mesh, too. It can create a very complete image of what is running on the employee’s hardware, including their cell-phone hardware. IT then can do remote local diagnostics and proactively identify problems such as malware infections to inappropriate use of company equipment (i.e., downloading pornography). Corrective action can then be applied to this remote mirror image of the employee’s hardware (or a note sent to their manager), and the problem corrected without the employee’s computer even being powered on or connected.

And in the case of a lost or stolen computer, it will be easier to automatically purge the information once the computer is connected to a network. (There will likely be better ways to do this, but Live Mesh provides a tool that you might not otherwise have).

Also, you can back up the duplicated remote image and not ever have to back up the employee’s computer directly. But you won’t be able to eliminate backups with Live Mesh because accidentally deleted files get deleted on the mirrored image.

Mesh’s Security Requirements

Access to Live Mesh needs to be highly secure and well controlled. Implement the same type of control you would provide the backup files from an employee’s PC. This typically includes solid multi-factor authentication, approved opt-in hardware rules (with checks to make sure required security software and policies remain in place), and monitoring tools, which identify unauthorized access or unusual activity.

Since this solution will eventually support both cell phones and non-Windows systems, you should develop policies and rules that prevent its use until IT is ready to support and protect any of these systems potentially connected to Live Mesh.

Finally, the partition containing business data and applications should be protected from Live Mesh until the company can ensure the security of that data.

Live Mesh has significant advantages for the user. But it can be risky, too, if it isn’t implemented in a secure fashion. Think through the related exposures and implement the required policies first. That will help ensure that your users get the benefits and avoid the risks associated with this promising new technology.

— Rob Enderle is President and Founder of Enderle Group . Special to Dark Reading.