Network security

Adapt network security for a distributed workforce

Network access control is more important than ever with a distributed, home-based workforce. (Image: OnePixel)

Network managers are grappling with an explosion of users and devices, a trend that has intensified with the widespread shift to a distributed workforce during social distancing shutdowns. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, securing the network is more difficult and more essential than ever.

In this hyperconnected world, many IT teams are turning to automation and machine learning to secure their growing networks. Network security focuses on more than protecting the infrastructure against external attacks. It also involves implementing adequate access control for employees and ensuring that a business has the IT talent it needs to remain resilient in the face of emerging new threats.

The financial cost of poor network security is rising. A 2019 IBM study revealed the cost of a data breach increased by 12% over five years, with some organizations continuing to incur costs for years after discovering a problem.

In his 2020 Global Network Trends Report, Cisco reported that 53% of cyberattacks cost more than half a million dollars in damages. Together, the data points from Cisco and IBM clearly indicate that network security should play a prominent role in your IT operations.

Prioritize remote access and network control

One of the trends discussed in Cisco’s report is how network users are no longer consistently in the same place — like their desks — when accessing files or managing workloads. Cisco warns that IT professionals can no longer rely on manual access for network operations as users become increasingly mobile.

Using a software-based approach across all areas of the network makes it possible to manage and administer consistent access control across all networks, regardless of a person’s access point. It can also recognize Internet of Things (IoT) devices added to the system and automatically apply appropriate measures – an especially important task, as Cisco predicts there will be 14.6 billion IoT devices on networks by 2022. .

Many network professionals embrace the ability to use new, high-tech access control measures to maintain excellent management practices. This factor is all the more crucial as the number of people using the network – and the devices they have – continues to increase. The Cisco study cited findings from last year’s Network Trends Report, which showed that 72% of respondents want to deploy intent-based or AI-based access control in two years, whereas only 18% currently do so.

If companies follow through on these intentions, they could create and modify access policies as needed. Additionally, they could assess the current access control to ensure that it matches business intent.

Cisco’s report also revealed that 43% of network teams prioritize improving the security capabilities of the integrated network. Additionally, these strategists mentioned security as a priority investment area, second only to artificial intelligence. These results strongly suggest that network professionals understand that IT operations management must evolve to meet current and future needs.

Recommendations for the Zero-Trust Network Security Model

The zero-trust security model was another topic discussed in Cisco’s report. It takes the approach of checking everyone on an application-by-application basis — even people who have been with a company for years or are at its highest level. Cisco’s report advises combining the zero-trust model with network automation and assurance strategies. This helps in mitigating threats throughout the system.

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Of course, adopting the zero-trust model doesn’t mean you have to relax application-level security. There are apps that enable companies to manage large-scale global security policies. They also include built-in artificial intelligence for continuous threat detection.

Network security points in five key areas

While Cisco’s report acknowledged the realities of modern infrastructure, it clarified how network management professionals should keep five things in mind:

  • Visibility: Chief Information Officers (CISOs) are concerned that this new distributed approach to applications and data will pose visibility issues. Cisco’s research did not provide guidance on how to maintain high levels of visibility. However, technology makes this goal easier to achieve, especially since many tools offer unique dashboards displaying all network stats in one place.
  • Zero Trust Access: The report notes that “the network is integral to building a consistent trust model where all users, applications, and devices are equally suspect, regardless of where they access the network.”
  • Continuous Protection: The network should provide both detection and enforcement capabilities, taking automatic action to contain infected devices.
  • Trust infrastructure: With the growing number of malicious parties looking for ways to exploit weaknesses, managers need to adopt an approach that secures the network as a whole and offers similar protection to individual devices.
  • Streamlined workflows between network operations (NetOps) and security operations (SecOps) teams: The Cisco report mentions how CISOs view collaboration between NetOps and SecOps teams. He cited statistics that 95% of respondents said these teams are already very or extremely collaborative. Despite this progress, Cisco mentioned that the two groups usually do things separately when collecting or analyzing data. These teams must integrate the tools necessary to accomplish the tasks and unite around a common objective of prevention, detection and automated response to threats.

Gaining ground in each of these five areas will take time and dedication. But, hard work and commitment should pay off. A statistic from the Cisco report confirmed that in 2019, nearly half of CISOs (48%) identified time-to-remediation as a key performance indicator (KPI). Only 30% said they had done so in the previous year.

This KPI is focused on safety, but it can support other network related, such as those dealing with latency, availability, and usage. Reviewing KPIs can help network professionals assess their progress in the five areas above, as well as others not mentioned.

What challenges exist in network security?

Challenges abound in the field of network security. Many of today’s environments are mobile or cloud-centric and increasingly complex, making it harder to defend against attacks.

Moreover, today’s workloads do not exist within a well-defined perimeter. Hybrid and edge-hosted applications are changing the approaches network security professionals must take to lock everything down. There is also an increasingly diverse mix of users and devices on the network. For example, a company may have full-time onsite staff, remote contractors, and seasonal workers who all need access to a company’s data on their computers, phones, tablets, and IoT devices.

Cisco also warns that hackers are more likely to target the underlying switching and routing infrastructure. They do this to compromise data, spy, or enter the network to orchestrate attacks on other parts of the system. Hackers are constantly innovating and engaging in increasingly advanced attacks. This surge keeps the threat landscape in an ever-fluctuating state that network security professionals need to monitor as closely and diligently as possible.

Managing IT Operations Effectively Requires a Proactive Mindset

The topics detailed in Cisco’s report underscore why even the most seasoned network security professionals can’t assume that the same methods they used a few years ago will still suffice today. Understanding current threats – and those looming on the horizon – is crucial.

Remember that it may take time for your superiors to agree to a substantial change, such as the implementation of the zero security model. If so, anticipate that the process may take longer than you imagined. Also, commit to keeping up to date with network security trends not covered by Cisco. The report is undoubtedly useful, but you shouldn’t depend on it as your sole resource for recent trends.

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