The evolution of access control: from VPN to identity-based anywhere access
First published on CloudBlogs on Apr 11, 2016
Do you remember what it was like when everyone had desktop computers and data security focused on the best way to physically lock computers to heavy desks? In this article, we’ll review the ways security and access control have changed over the years, highlighting how
Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS)
is poised to provide best-in-class solutions for a world with mobile devices and online services.
Mobile Access v1: Mobile Laptops
In the past, corporate data was hosted on-premises. It was accessed by desktops that were physically connected to the corporate network. Then, laptops emerged as the dominant corporate device, and the Virtual Private Network (VPN) was born.
VPNs provided 3 primary functions:
They made it possible for laptops to reach corporate services on the Intranet
They restricted corporate access to Internet-connected laptops
They helped prevent data loss by encrypting communications and running agents on the laptops that helped contain data
Over time, VPN technology evolved. The criteria that could be used for access control (e.g. require the laptop to be domain-joined) expanded and the technology to prevent data loss matured.
Eventually, new types of VPNs such as SSL VPNs emerged. SSL VPNs enabled app-specific, as opposed to device-wide, access to corporate services from the Internet. This reduced the attack surface and also enabled new scenarios such as accessing corporate services from web browsers running on unmanaged devices.
Mobile Access v2: Smart Mobile Devices
Later, when smart mobile devices arrived in the corporate computing landscape, they needed access to corporate resources, and VPN technology was the tool available to provide that. Mobile devices, primarily connected to the Internet, needed network reachability to corporate services. However, theses always-on devices brought many security concerns from their early general lack of IT controls. This drove demand for complementary technology to the VPNs which would help protect data.
All of this created an opportunity for integrated solutions based on Mobile VPN, Mobile Device Management (MDM), and Mobile Application Management (MAM). The management system would provision a VPN profile to a mobile device and thereby give it controlled access to corporate services on the Intranet. MDM and MAM features would help provide data protection on mobile devices analogously to the agents deployed by VPN clients on laptops.
Over time, Mobile VPNs emerged into per-app Mobile VPNs. The per-app variety provided similar benefits to mobile devices that SSL VPNs had provided to mobile laptops in the past. They reduced the attack surface and enabled new scenarios.
Mobile Access v3: Identity-based Access Control and Data Protection
Now, we are in an era of mobile access where increasing amounts of corporate data lives outside of the network perimeter. Data still lives on corporate networks, but it’s also in cloud services, on mobile devices, and in mobile apps. Perhaps one day you won’t have any corporate data left on-premises, but the moment you start adopting cloud services you need to rethink the way access is controlled and data is protected.
In the mobile-first, cloud-first world, a fundamentally different approach was needed, so we built access control and data protection directly into mobile devices, mobile apps, and the cloud infrastructure itself. In this world your network perimeter is replaced by an “identity perimeter.”
That’s what we’ve built with Office 365 and the Enterprise Mobility Suite, as a supplement to the classic VPN provisioning mechanisms all EMM providers have for on-premises apps. EMS delivers integrated identity, access control, management, and data protection – built to protect your corporate data wherever it lives.
With EMS, whenever a mobile device or app attempts to authenticate to an online service (Microsoft or 3
party) or on-premises web app (via
Azure AD Application Proxy
Azure Active Directory (AD)
subjects the request to criteria you define, consulting with the management system as needed. Is the mobile device managed and compliant with IT policies? Is the mobile app managed? Has the user presented multiple forms of authentication? Is the PC domain-joined and managed by ConfigMgr? Is the request coming from the corporate network or the internet? All of these criteria and more are provided without the need for VPN. It’s just built in. The diagram below shows how EMS ensures that you have the access controls in the cloud needed to replace the access controls in your VPNs.
In addition to providing cloud access control, Office 365 + EMS also provides native data protection. Again, this is based on identity and integrated with management. Was a corporate identity used to access the data? If yes, then the mobile apps will prevent the data from being shared with consumer apps or services via Save-As, Open-In, clipboard, etc (Intune MAM with or without device enrollment into MDM). Is the document itself explicitly protected by an access policy (Azure RMS)? If so, enforce access control on that file, even when it roams outside of apps and devices under management.
This integrated approach to data loss prevention enables the same application to isolate the corporate and personal data that it handles. This means your employees will not have to use separate apps for work. They can just use Office mobile apps for work and personal use and the right protections will apply at the right times. The diagram below shows this concept.
The Advantages of the Cloud-first, Mobile-first Approach Used by Office 365 + EMS
As mobile access evolves from VPN-based to identity-based, you’ll see several benefits:
Cost savings compared to VPNs
. VPN technology is typically expensive and complex. Deploying VPN agents, profiles, and certificates is also complex and expensive. As more and more of your data moves to the cloud, you’ll enable larger and larger populations of cloud-only users that don’t require a VPN and everything it carries.
Simpler access infrastructure to operate
. Instead of operating a global scale network perimeter with various proxies, gateways, and VPNs, you just need to connect your existing on premise AD with the Azure Active Directory. From there, Office 365 and other SaaS apps will route their authentication through Azure AD and your modern access controls will be enforced.
Better end user experiences
. With EMS’s identity-based access control, your end users will not have to install and launch separate VPN apps. The access control experience is natively a part of the sign-in experience in the mobile apps. Since your traffic isn’t bounced from the Internet to the Intranet and back, your employees get better latency and performance in their mobile apps.
Positioned for the future
. Once your basic cloud access infrastructure is in place, you have a fantastic foundation for future innovation. In the past year, we’ve introduced many enhancements in EMS for access control and data protection. A small sampling includes things like tracking mobile document usage (Azure RMS), enabling cloud access control for requests coming from desktop apps (Azure AD), and enabling MAM on unmanaged BYOD devices (Intune). Because these capabilities are provided from the cloud, they come often and automatically. You don’t need to plan upgrades or migrations to start to take advantage of the latest and greatest. Compare this to your VPN infrastructure today and the tremendous amount of effort it takes to upgrade to the latest and greatest.
In the EMS team, we’re super excited by the identity-based model for mobile access control and data protection. We see this as one of the best things offered in the industry to help you provide great mobile experiences to your employees at the lowest cost and in the most future-proofed way. We also see this as a great differentiator for EMS compared to other EMM solutions that have a VPN or gateway at the heart of their access control solution.