You Wouldnt Actually Turn Off Your Firewall, Would You?

Opinion: I'm unclear on what deperimeterization means. But if it means putting company systems directly on the Internet then it's a big mistake.

For weeks now Ive been thinking on and off about "deperimeterization," a term that has been used in a variety of ways for years. Some analyst talk got it in the news recently.

At least the goal of deperimeterization is to enhance security. That I can respect. The abstract point seems to be to identify the resources worth protecting and to protect them. "Resources" is defined very, very broadly. The overreacting approach to this goal is to say that the network firewall doesnt fit into it. Why not just put systems on the Internet directly and protect the resources on them that are worthy of protection with appropriate measures?

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I hope Im not misreading the approach, but thats what I got out of our news article: "BP has taken some 18,000 of its 85,000 laptops off its LAN and allowed them to connect directly to the Internet, [Forrester Research analysts Robert Whiteley and Natalie Lambert] said." This is incredible, if true.

What does it mean? Perhaps it just means that they can connect to the VPN through a regular ISP connection? That wouldnt be news. On the other hand, what else can it mean? Whitely and Lambert seem to view deperimeterization as a means to improve performance and lower cost. If you need to protect the data on a notebook computer they say you should do it with encryption and "data access controls." This is the philosophy in the 2001 article in which the term was coined.

But of course you cant just put a system on Comcast and have it access corporate resources. VPNs arent just about security, they connect a remote client into the corporate network. So unless everyone in the corporation has subnet mask of there needs to be some network management going on.

Or maybe Im wrong. Maybe thats what they actually want to do. This certainly sounds like the idea behind the Jericho Forum, the minds behind deperimeterization. This New York Times blog echoes the thoughts.

Not everyone has this cavalier attitude towards deperimeterization. This article from the British Computer Society seems a lot more conservative in approach. It refers to protecting resources "as if [they were] directly exposed to the Internet." It speaks of using "network segmentation, strict access controls, secure protocols and systems, authentication and encryption at multiple levels."

That sounds like a shift in emphasis, moving resources more towards internal protection, but not ditching the perimeter. I might have some gripes with this—it sounds like the Full Employment Act for Security Consultants, for example—but it sounds plausible as a useful strategy.

Next page: How does virtualization fit in?