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iPass is to take a more active role in supporting customers' network security programmes, a move that will see the company's business ultimately become more akin to facilities management than that of a corporate remote access provider.

iPass Policy Orchestration enables customers to devise more flexible security policies rather than work to a 'one size fits all' level of remote access security.

Today, employees connecting to the corporate LAN via any of iPass's dial-up, fixed Ethernet, GPRS or Wi-Fi access points go through iPass' own access authorisation procedure as well as that of the corporate, which in turn regulates their level of access to the LAN according to policy.

In Q4, iPass hopes to allow customers to defer policy administration to its own initial authorisation phase. The company will control and enforce corporate network access policy on behalf of the customer, which makes for a more flexible and more secure system, it says.

According to Ken Greene, UK technical director, Policy Orchestration will allow corporates to provide users with different facilities depending on what connection modes they employ.

"A user on a low-bandwidth dial-up might only be delivered with critical software security updates and only be given access to email," he said, "whereas that same user connecting later through a hotel LAN or a public Wi-Fi hotspot, with their greater bandwidth, might be granted access to more corporate LAN facilities and a full range of software updates."

Virtual private networks (VPNs), personal firewalls, anti-virus software, assessment and remediation, patch management, and network compliance capabilities will all come under iPass's control, Greene said, the better to protect corporate data.

"Users are increasingly connecting to base using not only company-issued and maintained notebooks but home PCs and other devices over which the IT department has no control," said Greene. "Those machines may not be running AV software or a firewall. Even if they are, are they sufficiently configured to prevent unwanted communications being sent out from the PC?"

iPass Policy Orchestration, he said, will allow corporates to block access from such 'unauthorised' systems, or at least limit how many facilities they are given access to.

However, he maintained that iPass was not in the business of telling customers what security policies to put in place, or what firewall, AV, VPN, authorisation etc. systems to use.

Corporate networks of networks

The iPass approach looks beyond the provision of remote access of travelling employees to a time when more staffers are, thanks to cheap broadband and more liberal employment regimes, are working from outside the office. At that point, the remote connections become more than short-duration links into the company network to pick up email, but remotely-maintain network peers.

And since these users will need greater levels of access than someone making an ad hoc connection might, corporates' attitude to remote access and the network policies around it has to change. Just as the Internet is made from an array of individual but connected LANs, so too can corporate networks.

Get enough of these remote yet fully connected workers out there, and your remote access contract becomes more of an infrastructure and network management outsourcing deal, and that's effectively how iPass is increasingly pitching its business.

Policy Orchestration has applications beyond the corporate sphere. An ISP connected to a host of subscribers isn't so very different from a corporation connected to a host of remotely working employees. Public pressure - not to mention legislation - could yet force ISPs to take a more active role in enforcing security at the subscriber level. They can offer punters AV software and firewalls, but today they can't enforce or control their use, either to make life easier for non-technical users or to ensure no one can claim their subscriber network contains zombie PCs.

Greene said iPass isn't actively targeting ISPs and other service providers, but they could form the basis for a large addition to the company's customer base should it choose to push its technology in that direction. Policy Orchestration provides it with an opportunity to do so. ®

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