The importance of context should never—ever—be underestimated. Put up a sign across a path saying “Keep Out” and you can guarantee it will be ignored, and by a sizeable majority. Put up one saying “Keep Out, Unexploded Bomb” and although a foolhardy few will carry on regardless, most will take heed and stay away.
The same also applies to data where we’re pretty much accustomed to the idea that, by looking for patterns, we gain access to a whole new layer of added information. Indeed, that’s pretty much what business intelligence and data analytics are all about. By going one step further and adding in the context in which data is created and gathered—the who, when, why, and how—you open up a portal to a completely new dimension. Put simply, context can turn information into knowledge—and as we all know, knowledge is power.
Another example might help here, much like the “Keep Out” sign mentioned earlier, but this time applied to IT. Instead of signs, however, applications employ authentication technologies to determine who’s allowed in. Technologies that have very little context to work with typically apply the same level of security regardless of who or where users are, the type of device they happen to be using, and so on.
This approach works, but tends to be heavy handed with applications assuming the highest level of risk in the majority of circumstances, then mitigating that risk by limiting what all users are allowed to do. Factor the “who, when, why, and how” context into the equation and application security can be tailored to the actual, rather than assumed level of risk. Users connecting via a VPN, for example, can be given more rights than those using the general Internet for access; Wi-Fi users can be directed to a guest VLAN; platform-specific malware automatically screened and blocked, and so on—all of which allows applications to be made much more responsive to what users, increasingly, expect to be able to do online regardless of how they connect or interact with the applications involved.
Of course, this use of context can’t just be magically switched on, and for context to be included when collecting, analyzing, and acting upon data, a whole raft of technological advances are needed. But these are being made and very rapidly, largely in the wake of our ongoing love affair with mobile devices and— more recently—the ability to establish context more easily through the intelligence available via the Internet of Things.
Added to this, the science of data analytics is moving forward to both better understand and employ context when analyzing information and to take action in real time, based on that understanding. We’ve been emphasising this concept of Fast Data here at TIBCO for some time.
It’s all starting to come together, with ubiquitous embedded intelligence combined with pervasive analytics driving the development of agile and responsive applications, alert to their surroundings and able to initiate action appropriately.
Moreover, enhanced context-aware security is only one example of this growing capability. By understanding the context of the data they gather and analyze, applications are increasingly able to not only adjust their security response, but also the way in which information is delivered to the user—tailoring the experience in ways they understand and appreciate, rather than simply putting up “Keep Out” signs.