IBM doesn't think every user in the enterprise should be locked into the same two-factor authentication scheme. And to prove it, it bought a whole company.
Big Blue yesterday announced it has acquired Encentuate, a three-year-old, privately held maker of single sign-on, authentication management, and access tracking tools. Financial terms of the buyout were not disclosed.
Encentuate's will be integrated into IBM's Tivoli line of products, which includes Tivoli Access Management (TAM), Tivoli Identity Management (TIM), and a single sign-on product powered by technology from Passlogix.
Officials at IBM/Tivoli said the Encentuate line offers greater flexibility, particularly in the second factor of authentication, than its current single sign-on (SSO) line. "In the past, SSO meant that everybody had to have the same second factor, like a token or a smart card," noted Joe Anthony, program director for security and compliance management at Tivoli. "It's just another thing to keep track of."
With Encentuate, end users in different parts of the enterprise can be authenticated with tools they already have, such as smart cards, biometrics, tokens, RFID badges, or even personal objects, Anthony observed. And once they are authenticated to the system, they can gain access to all of the applications and data they need, rather than just one or a few of them, he observed.
Encentuate also tracks which systems a user accesses and when, which is becoming a critical element of many regulatory and vertical-industry compliance requirements. "Compliance is driving a lot of our customers' decisions," Anthony said.
Single sign-on technology has been around for more than a decade, but many enterprises remain queasy about the idea of allowing users to access a wide range of systems, applications, and data via a single password. "SSO isn't necessarily good for security, because it consolidates to a single failure point," said Rich Mogull, founder of Securosis, a security consultancy.
However, many of these enterprises are interested in reducing the number of passwords and access methods they use, both to reduce technology costs and to simplify password and access administration, Mogull observed. "There is a lot of value in reducing sign-ons where it makes sense," he said. "We've seen a lot of traction there, especially when linked with broader identity management, which Tivoli tries to do."
The move toward risk management is also spurring renewed interest in SSO, according to Scott Crawford, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. "Access privilege abuse allegedly played a major role in the Societe Generale case, for example, and auditors can be expected to scrutinize business risk exposure in IT more carefully going forward." (See Societe Generale: How Did It Happen?)
Given IBM's OEM relationship with Passlogix, the decision to acquire Encentuate is "a bit of a surprise," Crawford said. Tivoli will offer a program to upgrade users from the Passlogix-based technology to Encentuate, which may irk some current users.
"IBM likely got a very good deal for Encentuate," Crawford said. "And to IBM's credit, this is a solution that has the reputation of being readily integrated out-of-the-box with a wide range of access targets, with good customer satisfaction and rapid time-to-value."
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