Organizations must prepare for security implications of digital workplace
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Organizations must prepare for security implications of digital workplace

Increasing adoption of a more mobile, social, data-driven and consumer-like workplace is causing the breakdown of traditional security models and strategies, according to Gartner, Inc. (

The research group predicts that by 2018, 25% of large organizations will have an explicit strategy to make their corporate computing environments similar to a consumer computing experience. Security organizations and leaders that fail to alter strategies to accommodate a more consumerized workforce will be sidelined by engaged organizations.

"Significant changes that impact an organization's approach to security are underway," says Tom Scholtz, vice president and Gartner Fellow. "Employee digital literacy has led to a growing consumerization movement within most enterprises, with employees using a wide variety of consumer-oriented apps for business purposes. Other workplace trends — such as out-tasking, globalization, networked reporting structures, shadow IT and a desire to foster employee engagement — are all impacting IT strategies. As organizations shift toward a more digital workplace, long-held approaches to security need to be re-examined."

"Implementation of a digital workplace exacerbates the IT department's loss of control over endpoint devices, servers, the network and applications," says Scholtz. "In a fully consumerized workplace, the information layer becomes the primary infrastructure focal point for security control. This reality necessitates a shift toward a more information-focused security strategy."

The sheer volume of devices and access vectors implied by a digital workplace, coupled with the increase in sophisticated, dynamic attack methods and insider threats, makes the traditional approach of focusing on preventive controls (such as signature-based anti-malware, network and host intrusion prevention systems, pervasive encryption and continuous patching) increasingly ineffective. While the value of and need for preventive controls will never go away, the digital workplace reinforces the need to focus more on detective and reactive controls, according to Gartner.

In practice, this means increasing investments in context-aware security monitoring for internal and external environments, threat intelligence assessment capabilities and incident response. Pervasive, context-based monitoring and security information analytics will form the core of next-generation security architectures.

Strategies such as the digital workplace implicitly recognize that users will be given more freedom in how they use technology and information. This implies a higher level of trust that users will exhibit appropriate behavior in dealing with enterprises' information resources. Key elements of a behavior-focused security communication strategy include considering "just in time" security awareness techniques, which remediate or reward user behavior based on the appropriateness of that behavior within the user's context.

"Effective behavior management is not produced by the mere deployment of an education program," says Scholtz. "In addition to an education program that is focused on measurable behavioral outcomes, security leaders should develop their ability to collaborate with personnel and line-of-business managers to modify job descriptions and reward mechanisms so that they are aligned with desired security performance."

Gartner believes that trusting the motives and behavior of individual users is a key enabler for the digital workplace. Conventional approaches to information security tend to treat everyone, including employees, with distrust. By implication, such an attitude will impede the digital workplace. However, a more people-centric approach to security will contribute to the potential success of the initiative. People-centric security (PCS) is a strategic approach to information security that emphasizes individual accountability and trust, and that de-emphasizes restrictive, preventive security controls.

PCS is based on a set of key principles, and on the rights and related responsibilities of individuals. The premise of PCS is that employees have certain rights — but these are linked to specific responsibilities.

These rights and responsibilities are based on an understanding that, if an individual does not fulfill his or her responsibilities, or does not behave in a manner that respects the rights of colleagues and the stakeholders of the enterprise, then the individual will be subject to sanction. While a wholesale PCS strategy is certainly inadvisable for many organizations, it is certainly a viable concept that should be considered as part of the digital workplace.

"The digital workplace implies new and different security risks," says Scholtz. "Hence, it is imperative for the impact of the digital workplace to be properly risk-assessed. Owners of information assets involved in the initiative must be informed of the risks, and the security team must help them assess the potential impact of the risks against the expected business benefits of the digital workplace. Also, the affected information owners must sign off on any additional risk that they are willing to accept in the interest of the digital workplace."


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