Pharmaceutical IT chief melds five cloud security companies to bolt down resource access

Having migrated his company from on-site servers and applications to a cloud-based software-as-a-service, Nathan McBride, vice president of information technology at AMAG Pharmaceuticals, is now working to influence security by getting five cloud security service providers to build what he wants.

McBride says his over-arching goal is to get Bitglass, Okta, Identropy, CloudLock and Secure Access Technologies to contribute their expertise in a project involving a new technology for smartphones and laptops for employees. The idea is that an employee will have a smartphone with a digital certificate that when it's turned on within six feet of a laptop or tablet will authenticate that device for use with the specific cloud-based applications each employee is provisioned to use. "We're basically controlling authentication across the board this way," says McBride.

Plus, McBride wants employees to never have to use a password again for cloud-based applications to get to Google Apps, Concur, Salesforce or anything else.

"People are still writing down passwords in notebooks," says McBride, making it clear he dislikes the whole idea of passwords, how they can be shared or stolen, how they have to be managed. He wants them gone, and he thinks the certificate-based authentication supported through behind-the-scenes interactions and hand-offs of the five cloud-security providers, can accomplish this. "We're building a new security model at AMAG and the goal is to eliminate passwords."

+More on Network World: Pharmaceutical firm retires Microsoft environment for cloud services | Gartner: Cloud-based security as a service ready to take off | Three security start-ups you should keep an eye on+

Under McBride's plan, employees will have designated access to cloud services they're assigned and specific corporate documents they're allowed to look at or change. He wants an audit trail for it, too.

McBride is not only not leery of cloud security start-ups, he has been in the vanguard of adopting their services, and think they can deliver on his vision. The five cloud-security firms that AMAG Pharmaceuticals is working with are all part of the new breed of vendors managing identity and corporate data through the cloud.

Some of them, like single-sign-on provider Okta and CloudLock with its GeoFence for Google Apps and protection for Salesforce, are becoming better known. Bitglass, though, just came out of stealth mode today with a novel proxy-based approach to "watermarking" application traffic flowing through software-as-a-service providers to their corporate customers to know what employees got access to the data, when it's viewed and if it leaks out, who leaked it. The Bitglass service "can tell me this person shared this data on this day," says McBride.

McBride has already been testing Bitglass as an early adopter. But he says his over-arching goal is to get Bitglass, Okta, Identropy, Cloudlock and Secure Access Technologies to combine their expertise to build a cloud-based secure-authentication and access method that doesn't really exist today. The goal behind the whole project is "we're not letting any confidential data leave our cloud world," says McBride.

It's an ambitious project, and AMAG is spending about $100,000 to get this done in the coming year by enlisting these five cloud-security service providers to interact with each other in ways they never did before. He says the five vendors are undertaking this project, which is now in lab testing, to expand what they may be able to offer not just to AMAG, but to other customers, in the future.McBride says he anticipates the project with the five cloud security vendors will be ready to go live as a service by December when AMAG Pharmaceuticals expects to have hundreds of its certificate-based smartphones and other devices ready for employee use for secure access to cloud-based applications without any password required, along with document controls and auditing in place.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail:

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