BI, Spreadsheet Vendors Push to Improve Security

To meet growing user demand for business intelligence security, Microsoft Corp. has pledged to improve the security of Excel spreadsheets in its upcoming Office 2007 release. In addition, several BI tool vendors are touting security upgrades for both reporting tools and spreadsheet front-end products.

Alex Payne, product manager in Microsoft's Office business applications group, said that Office 2007 will provide improved integration of Excel with the BI reporting and analysis capabilities in the company's SQL Server 2005 software. The tighter integration of Excel with the BI tools will allow corporate IT operations to apply Windows authentication to users trying to access SQL reports or analysis cubes from Office, he added.

Office 2007 is scheduled to be available to business users later this year.

The new version of Excel will also allow users to store and manage spreadsheets from a central server so IT administrators can create business rules for accessing data, Payne said.

Meanwhile, Cognos last month disclosed the results of a security evaluation on the Cognos 8 BI tool set it launched last fall with the promise of improved security. Cognos 8 added prebuilt links to third-party security tools and to Microsoft's Active Directory.

The evaluation, which was performed by security vendor Symantec Corp. and funded by Cognos, determined that none of the Cognos 8 tools "contained a high risk of common Web application vulnerabilities."

Harriet Fryman, senior director of product marketing at Cognos, said that the Cognos 8 BI tools can also integrate with enterprise security tools, such as authentication and single sign-on systems, reducing the need to maintain multiple corporate security systems.

James Thomas, director of product marketing at Paris-based Business Objects SA, said that the BI vendor encourages companies to require that spreadsheets be used only within a corporate BI system, to ensure that the data remains secure.

The Business Objects XI BI tool set encrypts all communication and can be integrated with the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol and with Active Directory, according to Thomas. The Business Objects software can apply preset security policies to police access of spreadsheets and reports, he added.

A plug-in to Excel allows the Microsoft spreadsheet to be used to securely access corporate data from the Business Objects product, Thomas said. "Excel is probably the most widely used BI tool," he said. "The whole concept is not to tell people they can't use spreadsheets [but] to manage and secure information."

The future of securing BI may lie with emerging identity management systems, Thomas added. Business Objects has been evaluating the identity management system of Sxip Identity Corp. in Vancouver, British Columbia, as an option for a centrally managed ID system that it may add in three to five years.

Users equipped with a key fob or other security token could log into a central ID management system once from any location and obtain access to multiple systems, Thomas said. Some Business Objects users have already begun using key fobs and retinal scanning to provide access to BI systems, he added.

Wayne Eckerson, director of research at The Data Warehousing Institute, said that many BI tools provide role-based access, encryption of data across the network and/or integration with third-party security systems. However, he noted, organizations have to weigh security against ease of access to the information users typically demand.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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