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A NAC Is a NAC, Alack Alack

Mobile's inevitable return to the network flock
If it doesn't have "cloud" in its name, it's got to have "mobile." The horror started slowly, with executives bringing in iPhones and wanting them to get email. The rumblings became an all-out BYOD panic, as CISOs tried first to ban the devices and then realized that it was too late. Once again, they learned the central lesson of security: what you cannot prevent, you must manage.

Now we have a bumper crop of mobile management offerings: mobile device management (MDM), mobile app management (MAM), mobile container management ... but more than anything, there's simple management of the network connection that everyone starts with.

An endpoint connecting to the enterprise network should be authenticated, either via its user, or through a certificate or other token installed on it (ideally both). There should be policies around what that endpoint can access on the network: what applications, server resources, or any other services made available. And more policies on what state the endpoint is allowed to be in: what operating system version it's running, what patch levels are acceptable both for the OS and the installed applications, and which running processes are deemed to be safe. There might even be bi-directional filtering, and a smattering of DLP if you're feeling fancy. Behavioral analysis or any policy violation could result in the endpoint being quarantined or shut out from the network entirely.

Notice I didn't say "mobile device" there? I said "endpoint." And that's what a mobile device should be – and will be in the future: just another endpoint. Right now everyone is distracted by the fact that these new endpoints have different architectures, management requirements and governance issues; as if the equivalent of Angry Birds never existed on someone's desktop or laptop (or even the server). But in the upcoming salad days of mobile, I predict that we'll see more acceptance of the fact that this "mobile management" is just a NAC of a different color.

(Oh, and by the way: I don't see why this can't be applied to virtual desktops and virtual machine instances as well. Authenticate 'em all; let NAC sort 'em out.)

As specialized mobile management functionality gets folded back into classic NAC – because nobody wants to run two products when they can run one – we'll go back to more holistic thinking about what application and data controls are needed in the enterprise. This should help to simplify security monitoring a bit. But the journey is far from over.

Wendy Nather is Research Director of the Enterprise Security Practice at the independent analyst firm 451 Research. You can find her on Twitter as @451wendy.

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