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Who am I when I'm mobile?
Two recent announcements highlight the difficulties and importance of authenticating just who has access to what data or services via a mobile network, writes Bloor Research's Rob Bamforth. Each adopts a different approach, coming from two different perspectives in the mobile data world. The IT perspective, and the telecoms perspective - the intelligent end point, or the intelligent network.
First, does the device know who you are?
With the announcement from Aladdin Knowledge Systems and Pointsec Mobile Technologies, comes a traditional 'security equals something you hold plus something you know' approach to authentication. This is directly equivalent to the card plus activation PIN number we're all familiar with, and the idea being that it's unlikely you will both lose the card, and give up your secret password or PIN.
The difference of course with a mobile device like a laptop, is the network isn't always connected, and you still want to authenticate. In this case, the eToken from Aladdin combines with a secure screensaver Pointsec for PC, and the user is authenticated only if the eToken is in place, and the correct password supplied. There's no network communication, so the device is secured even when no network is present, or required. However there is a Remote Help function so that an administrator can help authorised users to regain access to their data if locked - but how do they know the user is who they say they are?
So does the network know who you are?
The announcement from Ericsson demonstrates the other side of mobile data security, from a telecom perspective. Here, Ericsson has announced support in the Ericsson Service Delivery Platform (ESDP) for the latest specifications from the Liberty Alliance. This Alliance, you may remember appeared as a response to Microsoft's Passport network identity management system, and Ericsson are a sponsor member, alongside companies such as Nokia, Novell, Sony and Sun. Project Liberty is all about creating, managing and authenticating online identities and brokering services based on information related to that identity.
This type of authentication operates as a service on the network and relies on the connection being present. It encourages the use of open, federated identities across multiple service providers, whilst providing the users with a single point of sign on.
While the initial noise from the Liberty Alliance revolved around Web Services, it's clear from membership and announcements like this, there is huge impact in the mobile data world. To make mobile data services operate like a utility will require identities to be managed seamlessly and efficiently.
Of course the mobile data world is not made safe by a single product, but products and procedures acting together, backed up by law enforcement and even insurance. The network centric view of it as a utility is too simplistic, as the devices connected are too smart, too independent, too personal. The personal computer is inherently an insecure device. As enterprises move from desktops and fixed offices to laptops, PDAs and mobile networks the problems intensify.
What becomes important is the ease in which mobile devices are made secure and services can be delivered to those who are entitled to receive them. Strong security is worthless is it's difficult to implement or use. Both the IT and Telecoms communities must talk closely and work together to ensure they combine the best of both worlds.