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Update: H1N1 drives demand for secure remote access

Companies want to provide secure access to employees working remotely

November 12, 2009 11:43 AM ET

Computerworld - The H1N1 pandemic is pushing companies to upgrade their secure remote access capabilities in order to enable more employees to work out of their homes and other remote locations in an emergency.

Vendors of remote access technologies are reporting an unexpected increase in demand for their products over the past several months as a result of H1N1-related concerns.

"What companies are really looking for is the ability to provide secure, remote access to more of their employees," said Michael Oldham, CEO of Portcullis Systems, a Marlborough, Mass.-based vendor of secure access appliances. "Most companies already have mobile workforces. What they are doing is planning for scale," he said.

Much of the increased interest has come from government agencies and larger enterprises, Oldham said. "They are the ones that seem to be more aware of the need for planning. We have seen a number of these organizations purchasing lately with H1N1 in mind," Oldham said.

Secure access technologies such as those offered by Portcullis and other vendors provide teleworkers with secure access to enterprise applications from any location, using a broad range of devices. They enable IT administrators to enforce security and information usage policies. These security enhancements are used to make sure that any devices connected to a corporate network from a remote location meets internal security requirements.

Such tools can be vital to enabling business continuity during a pandemic, said Sam Curry, vice president of product management and strategy at RSA, the security division of EMC Corp.

Last spring, when H1N1 pandemic fears were at their peak in Mexico, RSA saw a massive spike in demand for its SecurID authentication tokens from companies with operations in that country, Curry said. One company, which is among the largest producers in the food and beverage industry, placed an order for nearly 50,000 tokens to be delivered in a single day, he said. "They were fork-lifting thousands of these things directly to their operations in Mexico," to ensure they kept running through the worst of the crisis, Curry said.

The RSA tokens enable a company to implement two-factor authentication for accessing enterprise networks and applications. Many companies provide these tokens to workers who log in to company networks from remote locations. The Mexican company, which he would not name, already had a well-established infrastructure in place and easily implemented the additional tokens, he said. But most other companies would need to do some advance planning to quickly expand their remote workforce, Curry said.

As part of an effort to help companies support more teleworkers in a hurry, RSA recently introduced an on-demand authentication system that companies can use to enable workers to securely log in from remote locations. Instead of hardware-based tokens, workers get one-time passwords sent via SMS (short message service) to their mobile phones. A worker logging in from home would go to a self-service Web site and request a one-time password to be sent to his mobile phone. That password can then be used to securely log-in to the company's network.

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