The humble Web browser does more than just serve up websites. With the rise in cloud applications and the shift to a more distributed workplace, more and more enterprises are relying on their browsers to access data-heavy internal applications, software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, and data storage. Unfortunately, it isn't very secure software to start with, and adding security controls to the browser usually winds up impeding productivity and user experience.
Island and Talon Cyber Security are two startups using secure Web browsers to provide enterprises with built-in security controls and a familiar user experience. Adding security and visibility shifts the browser from being a highly vulnerable platform to being part of an organization’s first line of defense against Web-based attacks, says Ofer Ben Noon, CEO and co-founder of Talon Cyber Security, which released TalonWork last October. Island is the latest entrant in the secure browser space with Enterprise Browser, released Feb. 1.
“The browser is the most-used application in the corporate world, but also the most vulnerable app ever,” Ben Noon says.
Browser in the Crosshairs
Adversaries target the browser to break into the corporate environment: Web application attacks to compromise and steal proprietary information and customer data are on the rise, as well as attacks against the browser itself to gain unauthorized access to the system. Last fall, security researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) and the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences identified 14 new types of cross-site leak attacks against modern Web browsers (including Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Safari, and Mozilla Firefox) last fall that would allow malicious websites to steal information in the background from a trusted website. And there were more than a dozen zero-day attacks against Google Chrome in 2021, alone.
While most major browsers allow IT teams to change browser settings or apply policies across all users within the organization, the scope of the changes are still limited. It’s much harder to add data leakage prevention controls, such as restricting copy/paste, downloading files from the application, and the ability to take screen captures, for example. Enterprises typically rely on a myriad of different network security controls, endpoint agents, browser extensions, and add-ons to deliver the needed layers of security.
It’s one thing to lock down corporate-owned devices so that data can’t leave the endpoint, but with the shift to distributed work, that level of restrictions are not possible for personal devices. Many organizations rolled out virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to protect sensitive data by not letting the user run applications locally. They are insufficient for protecting corporate data across Web services, however.
“Meeting the core needs of the workplace requires expensive and cumbersome add-ons that often get in the way of work,” says Michael Fey, co-founder and CEO of Island. “While many of those technologies are useful, they simply cannot account for many of today’s workplace needs, such as a hybrid workforce, BYOD, contractor access, and an explosion of critical SaaS applications.”
Secure Browsers on the Scene
Island emerged from stealth on Feb.1 with Enterprise Browser, a secure browser intended to provide enterprises with a way to increase security while maintaining usability. Island integrated security controls such as the ability to restrict copy/paste, downloads, printing, and screen capture; audit logging for all user activity; and centralized policy management to define and apply policies consistently across the user base, the company says.
Talon Cyber Security launched its TalonWork browser last October with similar goals. TalonWork adds encryption, sandboxing, and controls to restrict user activity “to achieve local browser isolation and isolation of corporate data from the endpoint,” says Ben Noon.
Both TalonWork and Enterprise Browser are based on Chromium, the open source project for the base code used by Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and other major browsers. This ensures a better user experience because the look and feel and a lot of the functionality is the same as the regular stand-alone browser.
Both Fey and Ben Noon point to the high costs of VDI, including licensing costs per endpoint, time spent deploying to endpoints, and the resources needed for ongoing management as additional reasons why stand-alone secure browsers are easier for enterprises to work with.
Browser isolation technology is not a new concept, but the key difference between past attempts and these secure browsers is that these are stand-alone, independent browsers and not an emulation of a browser in the cloud.
"Users are secure without ever having to think about it, and work is simplified," Fey says.