Who can you trust in a BYOX world?

Apple has long held the reputation as the most trusted device vendor in the new BYOX World. iPhones and iPads are the devices that corporate executives demand most, and, fortunately, they are also the devices that corporate IT is most likely to trust. Generally that trust relies on Apple’s approach to the app store – a supposed “walled garden” that keeps the malware out, and allows only well-written and productive apps in. Although the actual merit of that trust is open to debate , trust in Apple has endured.

On Friday, Apple released iOS update 7.0.6 and iOS 6.1.6 without much fanfare and with the advice that users should install it to “fix an issue with SSL verification”. So far, the patch has been issued for iOS but not for OSX, which is also impacted by the vulnerability. Read the details of the vulnerability, and it is clear that this is a serious vulnerability that merits a serious response. Should this vulnerability be a wake-up call to IT to rethink that trusted view of Apple?

How significant is the problem? Should users be concerned?

The short answer is, very significant, and yes users should be very concerned.

The problem lies in Apple’s implementation of a critical aspect of the SSL/TLS (secure socket layer, or its newer revision called transport layer security) protocol – a key foundation of Internet security that allows sensitive information to be exchanged securely over public networks. It turns out that Apple software isn’t performing SSL certification verification properly. This vulnerability leaves iPhone, iPad and Mac computer users open to a potentially serious man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack.

The flaw is caused by a very simple coding mistake in the SSL certificate verification code in Apple’s Secure Transport library. It appears that this flaw has existed since iOS 6, and was still present in the latest beta version of iOS 7.1. Certificate verification is the implementation for one of SSL’s most fundamental precepts – end-to-end trusted communications. The idea behind the SSL certificate mechanism is that an SSL client (e.g., your web browser) can verify the authenticity of a website that it is communicating with by requesting a certificate. This certificate is similar in spirit to a passport – it is a unique, cryptographically secure mechanism for declaring a website’s identity, and, much like passports, certificates are issued by trusted entities called Certificate Authorities. Certificate Authorities take responsibility for ensuring that certificates are only issued to deserving recipients – legitimate businesses whose intentions are not malicious or illegal.
If certificate verification is not functioning properly, the entire system of chained trust falls apart enabling MITM attacks.

In such an attack, a malicious entity is able to intercept “secure” communications between an individual and the intended recipient or website. The attacker is able to read, insert and modify the data in the intercepted communication. The malicious entity can also impersonate a trusted website to install malware or steal valuable data like login credentials and passwords.

A worst-case scenario would look something like this: An unsuspecting user connects to a public WiFi hotspot. If that hotspot had a malicious listener attached to it, that listener could intercept traffic intended for an e-commerce or electronic banking site and steal usernames, passwords, account numbers, credit card numbers, etc. The user would have no warning that this theft was happening, and from the user’s perspective browsing to the malicious site would appear no different than browsing to the legitimate site. This is a dangerous vulnerability indeed.

So what are the implications of this troubling news?

No software is immune from vulnerabilities, and many serious vulnerabilities are uncovered that receive little or no attention in spite of the fact that their impact may be as severe as this issue in iOS and OSX. Apple is perhaps unfairly held on a pedestal, and from that pedestal even the slightest mistake can easily turn into a media storm. However, Apple has made a serious mistake in this case, and it is not the vulnerability itself.

The difference between those vendors that “get” security and those that don’t is in how they respond when vulnerabilities are inevitably discovered. Microsoft has been down this road and back, and prior to Bill Gates’ “Trustworthy Computing” memo Microsoft was the worst offender of all, both in terms of the number of vulnerabilities in their software and their repeated poor responses to them. However, Microsoft realized that growing their business in the enterprise required trust, and building trust with their largest customers meant getting serious about security. The result is not 0 vulnerabilities – that is impossible. The result is proactive, clear processes for communicating vulnerabilities and their impacts to customers and a patching process that allows IT to update effected software without forcing IT to broadly apply major upgrades that may have other, unintended and unwanted consequences.

Unlike Microsoft, Apple’s largest customers are not corporate entities that demand a robust security strategy. Apple builds devices for consumers, and it is these tens of millions of individual customers who are now forcing IT to embrace Apple devices, regardless of whether or not IT has any relationship with or influence on Apple. To some degree, Apple’s response to this issue shows that they are in tune with their customers, and, unfortunately for IT, IT is not Apple’s customer. Apple is not alone in its allegiance to consumers; Google and the Android ecosystem is the same, if not worse. So what is IT to do?

The Answer:

To keep data protected and secure, IT must retain control of the technology that ensures data security and that means entrusting the sanctity of sensitive corporate data with a company that views corporate IT as its most important customer. This does not mean that forcing all end users to Windows Phone is a good, or even viable idea.

Consumerization is here to stay. That means that IT has to adjust to the reality that end users are making device choices, not IT. Device centric security, however, in a consumer-driven mobile market, delivers a very troubling false sense of security.

The solution? A data focused security approach that remains fully under the control of IT and provides the appropriate level of protection and control that IT needs to keep data safe. In this case, when a security vulnerability appears, which it inevitably will, IT has the necessary tools, relationships, and control at their disposal to diagnose and fix the problem on their own timeline for their own users.

Unfortunately, this won’t be the last time that we see stories like this about potentially serious security vulnerabilities in software that we rely on and use every day. However, we do have the option to retake control of the solutions we use to secure our most sensitive data, and to ensure that our sensitive data is fully protected and under our own control.

– Seth

In the Cloud or on-premises – have it your way

Enterprises are adopting the Cloud at varying speeds. While there may be debate about Cloud computing today, it’s safe to say that most of us anticipate a day when using the Cloud will be commonplace. At the same time, while on-premises resources may be reduced, it’s hard to imagine local computing going away entirely.

Our message for you about the Cloud is simple. The Link architecture was deliberately designed to be flexible.

Link can be deployed:

• Entirely on-premises
• In the Mobile Helix Cloud
• In your private cloud
• As a hybrid of the first three

We offer Link hosted in our Cloud, which is especially attractive to small and medium-sized businesses. Still, we find that today most companies prefer an entirely on-premises deployment. That’s fine with us. We are happy to say that no matter what your preferred deployment model may be, we support it.

– Maureen

Seahawks, Microsoft and the mobile web revolution

Today is a huge day in Seattle – congratulations Seahawks fans! And with the apparently impending announcement of Microsoft’s new CEO it seemed a good time to comment on our perspective on Microsoft’s position in enterprise software and the demands for mobility.

It’s always refreshing to get out of my local market, the San Francisco Bay area. Here in the land of Google, Apple, Salesforce.com and Box there are plenty of people who have written off Microsoft. To be sure, Microsoft has a lot of work to do to ensure that its products retain, and regain, relevance in the next three to five years. Microsoft has missed the boat in consumer software. Still, it is important to keep in mind that in the enterprise Microsoft is doing colossal business. For their second quarter Microsoft reported posted profits of $6.6 billion on record quarterly revenue of $24.5 billion, beating the street. There were strong gains in the enterprise services sector, which includes Azure and Office 365 for business users.

In many verticals including financial, insurance, energy and professional services, Outlook and Office are the life blood for many of the largest companies in North America. Small and medium-sized business may have more flexibility to try something new. However, many don’t have huge security teams and therefore don’t want to go out on a limb with technology which may present new security challenges.

Moreover, visit enterprises outside of North America. Microsoft is a long established, trusted entity in many regions. Some regions are very reticent to move files to the public cloud or to use web-based apps.

Windows 7 (or its non-Metro successor) on the desktop, Office and Outlook, Active Directory/LDAP, Exchange, and SharePoint – in large enterprise firms and regions outside North America I see no rush to replace these products. Therefore, we provide intuitive mobile access to these solutions. We receive high praise for our SharePoint and Email (MS Exchange-based) user interfaces.

Yet, our Link Unified Endpoint Architecture APIs are flexible. Link is well-positioned to support the mobile web revolution. We can, and do, support other web applications, including SaaS applications, such as ECM and issue tracking, inside of our secure Link Container.

In summary – Microsoft is bread and butter for us in the enterprise. At the same time, Link is a simple and secure way to mobilize any web app, including SaaS apps. We embrace both.

– Maureen