Digital Natives: Secure Collaboration in Team Defence 2020

A Guest Blog from Colin Powers on the Digital Natives project…

Imagine you want to do some work on a file.

You’re at your computer, but you can’t access it. For security reasons, you don’t have access to this particular file from this computer. Instead, you have to go to a different computer and update it.

Then you want to send it to a colleague, but she’s out of town at the moment, working at a remote site. You can’t email it to her, because this computer doesn’t have an internet connection. You’ll have to let her know you’ve updated the document and wait until she’s back in the office to give you feedback on your work.

Later, you realise you forgot to update something in the document. You’re going to have to walk all the way to the other computer again. This is getting really tedious. Maybe you should just copy the file to a USB stick, then you’d be able to work on it from wherever you are! Of course, that’s against all the procedures, but everyone else does it; it’ll save you a ton of time, and you have a deadline to meet. Is it worth it?

It’s a classic story that will seem familiar to many who work in secure environments. You want to access a document, send an email, share or copy a file, but you can’t because security gets in the way. It’s a hassle that makes your job harder, makes tasks take longer and – frankly – bores you silly. Why can’t you use all these tools that would help you? Tools that you use every day outside of work, the ones that are perfect for the job you are trying to do.

Digital Natives Project

Recently, I took part in a UKCeB study titled “Digital Natives: Secure Collaboration in Team Defence 2020.”  The aim was to look at what collaborative working will look like in secure environments in the year 2020 – and how we can get there.

Collaborative Working Demonstration

I worked with 9 other volunteers from across the UK, from a variety of organisations. Together we worked collaboratively – sometimes in the same room, but more often online – to establish a vision, and to deliver it in the form of a presentation (exhibition stand and conference versions), Video and a Q&A session at the UKCeB Defence Information 2013 conference.

In the Digital Natives project, we demonstrated how great collaborative working can be when you take the barriers away and concentrate on the task at hand. We worked together from vastly different geographical locations, in ways we’d never be able to with the restrictions an average office environment brings (let alone a secure one!). And we proved the technologies already exist to accomplish what we need to do – the only missing piece is to find ways to adapt them to secure environments.

Taking questions after the DI’13 presentation.

We already have some of the answers – and I can tell you from first-hand experience that a tremendous amount of effort has gone into great Nexor products like Sentinel, Merlin and Guardian. As a software engineer, I’m very proud of the work I’ve put into each of them – and I’m sure the whole team is too.

But there is still more to do. Look at some of the brilliant technologies and trends emerging at the moment – the cloud, Bring Your Own Device, telepresence, social networks. Look at how helpful each of these can be in environments where they are allowed. The question is, how do we secure them? These days, efficiency is key, and we can no longer afford to simply ban new and useful technologies and stick to the old ways. We must change our attitudes and start to invest in finding ways to adopt new technologies faster.

The Digital Native project team at work

Secure environments needn’t be at the bleeding edge of technology all the time. But it is time to speed up a bit.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Leave them below, or contact me on twitter @colinmpowers

Author: Colin Powers


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