New Frontier

ILTA's Quarterly Magazine


The Cloud Opens a New Frontier in Mobility

by Chris Owens

The trend of new law firm floorplans that skip the big corner offices means that an increasing number of lawyers are choosing to work outside the office. As their laptops and phones get thinner and, at the same time, more powerful, lawyers want the flexibility to work from any device or location — and they want IT to figure out the details. Luckily, secure and productive mobility has never been more possible. Lighter hardware, feature-rich software, and intuitive security are culminating in a new zenith for mobility.

Identity-based access balances security with ease-of-use

Keeping data secure used to mean adding complexity. Today the cloud offers new ways to balance tight security with ease-of-use and productivity-enhancing features. As they embrace cloud technologies, law firms are encountering unprecedented possibilities for mobile work.

More cloud generally equals more convenience, in the office and in the mobile experience, for IT as well as for the end-user. Single sign-on capability, a major advance for mobility, is a prime example of this principle. With single sign-on, attorneys can access the programs and documents they need on a variety of devices with a single set of credentials. From the other end, identity-based sign-on offers the firm a way to loosely manage any device that has access to its resources.

In the world of SaaS, identity is all-important, regardless of device. The cloud unifies and then verifies identity as needed. This sort of conditional access has already been in use by personal technologies like banking websites and Gmail; logging in on a new device requires multi-factor authentication. Now this technology has come to the enterprise, and it is even easier. The benefits of the cloud model and identity-based security extend to work and personal laptops and computers, as well as to mobile devices like phones and tablets.

Security in the cloud

The surge in mobility, for all its positive implications for productivity, used to make IT and security departments nervous. The unauthorized spread of private data seemed impossible to fully control. Now SaaS platforms like Microsoft Office 365, Exchange Online, and Intune make it easy for firms to protect their resources based on identity and to understand who is being targeted. A user’s identity may spread to many devices without risk as long as the firm is managing it.

Windows 10 in particular has leveraged the cloud, analytics, and biometrics to bring excellent new security enhancements with every successive version. The operating system has not only built-in encryption but also filtering. User behavior analytics and conditional access allow administrators to spot and react to atypical behavior or access from suspicious locations. The “Modern Desktop” approach (Microsoft’s coinage) draws on the cloud to produce the Intelligence Security Graph for administrators, which analyzes user behavior for easy detection of anomalies.

The cloud has modernized mobile device management (MDM), allowing administrators to have a much lighter touch today than they did several years ago. As mentioned above, identity-based single-sign on has eased IT’s worries about the dispersion of data among many devices. Further, cloud MDM solutions like Intune and VMware AirWatch make it easier than ever to add light management to a variety of devices, be they laptops or phones, PC or Mac. Cloud infrastructure also simplifies the exit strategy for IT administrators — one click and all the departing user’s devices are wiped.


Hardware has also made great strides toward intuitive and secure use. Manufacturers are building faster, lighter laptops with better batteries, and many of these are specifically geared towards attorneys and their style of work. New laptops are also designed for biometric sign-in, allowing attorneys to sign in both securely and easily with fingerprint or facial scanning. Windows 10’s biometrics all but eliminate the risk of phishing. Hackers, whether sponsored by governments or mafias, are not stealing physical laptops but passwords from thousands of miles away. Biometric security is actually (secretly) a form of two-factor authentication — one that makes the process of signing on easier rather than more complicated.

Laptops and Always-On VPN

Laptops have undergone arguably the most dramatic evolution of all mobile devices in the legal industry and offer the most compelling new freedoms. They have become, firstly, easier than ever to work. An always-on VPN makes it simple to connect to the firm’s network from anywhere. Before Microsoft Always On VPN and DirectAccess, a laptop could be in several states of connectedness. It might not be connected at all and need troubleshooting by IT or it might be connected to the internet but not to VPN, requiring an attorney to go through a somewhat cumbersome VPN software interface. Always-on VPN ensures that the laptop is always in the ideal third state of secure connectivity as long as the user has internet access, eliminating ambiguous scenarios that can pose challenges for those who aren’t IT-savvy. “Casual road warriors,” those who travel as an exception, stand the most to gain from an always-on VPN. They can now be securely connected while on the road, without having to think about it. Considering all these advancements, it is strange how many attorneys still do not have laptops—though they have been around for years, laptops still represent a frontier for many in the legal industry.

Windows Virtual Desktop

What’s the next big thing in mobility? Microsoft’s 2018 Ignite conference suggested the answer with the announcement of a new platform, the Windows Virtual Desktop, due to come out in 2019. It could replace Citrix in many cases. The new platform will aim to make Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop unnecessary for ad hoc access—that is, not for those who primarily work on a virtual desktop, but for the many individuals who use it mainly as a backup for business continuity and other such specific cases. If you are unable to log into your regular work computer, you will be able to replicate the experience on any other device. This may make things easier for the user, but not necessarily. It will, however, certainly streamline operations and costs for the firm, which can license these solutions together. Windows Virtual Desktop represents yet another step in the unification trend that is making it increasingly possible to safely access firm resources from any device. ILTA

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Windows 10 in particular has leveraged the cloud, analytics, and biometrics to bring excellent new security enhancements with every successive version.