Tackling VPN security without firewalls
With this latest round of worms it became apparent that our biggest exposure was NOT our front door (the firewall), but rather the back door (laptops brought in from vendors/home, VPN users without firewalls). How are most organizations tackling the issue of protecting those devices? We've tried to mandate antivirus software and firewalls, but how can we technically force compliance?
Ah, here's the six million dollar question. Do you remember when most viruses were spread by floppy disks from home or other offices? We tried implementing stations at which everyone had to go and scan their disks before they could be used. Sometimes the station became infected and gave clean floppies viruses. It was an impossible task, and finally, we just eliminated the floppy drives on desktop computers.
Some companies I know are requiring that laptop computers be scanned before use (another impossible task). Others are attempting to use personal firewalls on laptops to prevent worms from leaving infected computers.
I don't know of a 100% sure technical control. (How can you prevent the laptop user from finding a network port and plugging in his laptop?) We've spent decades getting wired access everywhere, but how much of it do we really control? But one idea floating around is to require any new connection to the network to be authenticated and screened for adherence to security policy, just like we require external access to be screened. The security policy may include personal firewall, antiviral, etc.
This was first published in October 2003