In early February, startup Island unveiled a new type of web browser -- a software product that promises to help enterprises prevent employees from accessing potentially dangerous content. The company's new Chromium-based enterprise browser, also named Island, is designed to address enterprise security requirements by embedding core protection needs directly within the browser itself.
Headquartered in Dallas with research and development facilities located in Tel Aviv, Island is led by co-founder and CEO Mike Fey. Fey is a former president and COO at Symantec and former GM and CTO of McAfee. Island co-founder and CTO Dan Amiga, invented web isolation technology and was previously founder and CTO of Fireglass, which was acquired by Symantec in 2017. Other firms offering enterprise browsers include Honeywell and Zebra.
“While browsers like Chrome and Internet Explorer provide some degree of central managed browser control, most browsers in widespread use are configured and managed by the end user, leaving the level of security essentially unmanaged,” says Mitchell Ashley, a principal at technology research and advisory firm Techstrong Research.
Enterprise browsers, such as Island, give organizations the opportunity to manage, control, and impose governance on web browsers while maintaining the same features and functionality of the entrenched browser preferences of end-users, Ashley explains. “Highly regulated industries and organizations with more strict security, privacy, and governance requirements are likely candidates for strong adoption of enterprise browsers,” he adds.
Enterprise Browser Enhanced Security Features
Kumar Avijit, a practice director in the information technology services team at IT and business research firm Everest Group, notes that an enterprise browser can help reduce third-party risks: “In regular browsers, such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, there are a lot of third-party plugins/add-ons that can be downloaded from stores,” he says. “These third-party downloads can be a serious security threat and, in some cases, contribute to shadow IT.” Enterprise browsers, on the other hand, offer IT administrators more granular control over which applications and tools end users can download.
An enterprise browser generally provides an array of enhanced security features, such as advanced content filtering, malware blocking, and phishing protection. “Additionally, the enterprise browser can be configured to automatically update with the latest security patches, thereby ensuring that users are always running the most up-to-date version of the browser and are protected from any new security threats,” says Ryan Fyfe, chief operating officer at Workpuls, a workforce productivity and analytics platform developer. Finally, by centrally managing their enterprise browser deployment, IT administrators can more easily keep track of all browsers used within their organization and enforce corporate security policies across all user devices.
Among other capabilities, an enterprise browser may give administrators the ability to disable downloads, prevent access to malicious websites, block screen captures, and restrict social media platform use -- improving the organization's overall security posture. “Enterprise browsers are built keeping security in mind, which makes it less of a hassle for security teams to manage,” Avijit says.
By providing easy access to granular-level controls, an enterprise browser can help an enterprise ensure sure that its Internet use adheres to various industry compliance mandates, such as HIPAA and PCI DSS. “Additionally, enterprises can monitor critical transactions and capture key actions,” Avijit says.
Team Productivity, Collaboration
By providing a secure, centralized platform for team collaboration, an enterprise browser can help improve team productivity. “With a centralized platform, team members can easily share files, collaborate on projects, and communicate with one another,” Fyfe explains. “This can help improve communication and collaboration within teams and can help to increase overall team productivity.” He adds that an enterprise browser may also offer workflow optimization technology, with features that help teams track project progress and identify bottlenecks.
Organizations can also turn to enterprise browsers as an alternative to using a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), the hosting of desktop environments on a central server. “Accessing critical applications using traditional VDI technology has been a challenge for end users, owing to the complexity,” Avijit says. “However, enterprise browsers, built safe and with granular controls [are] a key alternative for VDIs,” he notes. “The transition to enterprise browsers from VDI can improve customer satisfaction scores and increase team productivity.”
Concerns About Enterprise Browsers
Given all of its additional capabilities and complexities, enterprise browsers can be more difficult to use than their consumer counterparts. “In addition, they may not be as well-supported ... which can lead to fewer updates and security patches,” Fyfe warns. “Finally, because enterprise browsers are designed for use in a corporate setting, they may not work as well when used at home or on personal devices.”
In fact, limited integration support for third-party applications could prove to be a major stumbling block to widespread adoption. Enterprise browsers, depending on the technology stack they're built on, can end up having very limited integration support, Avijit cautions.
The enterprise browser concept is relatively new, so widespread adoption may not arrive for quite some time, if ever. “We have not seen industry traction for enterprise browsers,” Avijit states. Yet he holds out hope that increasing security concerns may lead enterprises to closely examine the concept, noting that “there is some traction on themes, such as identity and access management, IoT/OT security, and zero trust security,” that could potentially fuel enterprise interest.