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Security and networking must converge to enable any “Edge” at any scale

Security and networking must converge to enable any “Edge” at any scale

Service providers need to be able to flexibly, but securely address all scenarios

Start reading and you will find many articles and estimates about when organisations are planning to bring employees back to the office. And you won’t be blamed for thinking there are as many expert opinions on the subject as there are individual organisations grappling with the question.

Many, particularly international firms, report a range of worker concerns about adequate protections and too-hasty returns to “the old normal.” Chief financial officers are increasingly careful about their outlook, with fewer than 20 per cent believing their companies could resume “business as usual” within a month if the Covid-19 crisis were to end today.

With so much variation in the outlook, information technology teams struggle to get a handle on whether they should be preparing for a significant return to the office or maintain a permanent hybrid model. And network flexibility is the least of their concerns. Security needs in particular have had to shift rapidly to accommodate WFH scenarios, and traditional security solutions require a significant amount of heavy lifting to shift between different business models. Now, IT leadership and their teams have been tasked with planning for the next 12 to 24 months based on a range of potential in-person/work-from-home (WFH) scenarios, the balance of each depending on geography, capacity, public infrastructure, and many other variables.

Those variables are critical for planning but weighing them—especially as a series of trade-offs—is the wrong way to think about cybersecurity. Forward-thinking security and networking providers, who help manage everything from the user experience of a remote-connected worker to the security of that worker’s connections to business applications in the cloud, must be able to offer security for any of these scenarios, adapting dynamically as requirements and plans change, ensuring scalability for any scenario as needed.

It isn’t a question of “we’ll be the best provider for a remote-heavy workforce” or “we’ll be the best provider when work inevitably resumes with a majority of employees in-office or on-campus.” Instead, providers need to be able to flexibly, but securely address all scenarios. The smartest providers are already using this historic period as an opportunity to invest in innovation, including in advanced technologies like software-defined wide-area-networking (SD-WAN) to not just support traditional branch offices, but to enable the home office as the new branch. The key to making the right investments is thinking about security and networking as a converged solution, rather than as discrete elements. So, how is this accomplished?

Xie: Security threats aren’t getting any less sophisticated, or less frequent

Converging security and networking to enable any “edge” at any scale
Digital innovation, work-from-home, the internet-of-things (IoT), and other macro-trends have forced nearly every organisation to redesign their networks to provide a better user experience for both employees and customers. The so-called network perimeter, which was once a narrow point of access at the edge of the network, now extends across the entire IT infrastructure and beyond the traditional trusted zone. This introduces new requirements across all of the edges that make up the new network—the data center, WAN, local-area network (LAN), remote workers, and cloud access. And Covid-19 has further underscored the need for business continuity plans that include flexible, anywhere, anytime, secure remote access—at scale.

Cybersecurity is dynamic and always changing. But it is important to remember that security threats aren’t getting any less sophisticated, or less frequent. Security breach headlines across all major business and government sectors are constant. While more than 30 per cent of successful attacks are a result of social engineering, new tactics are focused on targeting remote workers and their vulnerable home networks. New bad guys are taking the place of old threat actor groups, and organisations are being damaged because their networks—many of them impacted by recent changes to accommodate remote workers—aren’t properly segmented. Insider threats remain a huge attack vector. And older, unpatched systems are still responsible for more than half of all successful breaches.

A lot of this is the result of creating highly dynamic, highly flexible networks that are designed to adapt to changing connectivity, application, and bandwidth requirements in real time. The challenge is how to secure a network that enables any person using any device to access any resources from any location. Security-driven networking—a strategy that converges networking and security across the connected environment, from the core, to the branch and remote workers, and into the cloud—enables organisations to effectively see and defend today’s highly dynamic environments while preserving an excellent user experience for employees and customers, keeping them relevant, competitive, and resilient.

With security woven into their core, networks can evolve, expand, and adapt to digital innovations with ease, and do so at levels the next generation of computing—including hyperscale, multi-cloud, 5G, and other fast-arriving trends—requires. Converging networking and security enables a security strategy that is highly flexible and adaptive, supporting anywhere operations by simultaneously providing:

– The ability to manage external and internal risk for on-network users
– The ability to provide flexible, cloud-ready security for off-network users
– The ability to improve overall user experience while reducing WAN costs

The challenge is that for most legacy security platform, adding additional security and networking functionality simply isn’t possible. That’s because their underlying hardware—largely built using generic processors—is already overtaxed. Like other industries, security platforms designed for today’s businesses require custom-built processors (like the specialised GPUs used to render graphics) to accelerate essential security and networking functions. Without them, as performance expectations increase security is likely to become a bottleneck rather than a business enabler.

Don’t over-rotate on what’s happening right now—adapt to work-from-anywhere
In times like these, it’s tempting for IT teams and company leadership to get caught up in this week’s developments or next month’s trends. But providers that develop a long-term strategy for all scenarios—extended work-from-home, return to the office, or hybrid models of any flavor—will come out stronger than ever after the pandemic.

Bring some pointed questions to the next meeting with your technology provider. Any provider worth your investment should be able to ensure adaptability no matter your circumstances, or how much or how often your plans may change, whether a full return to office culture is imminent, or majority-work-from-home is anticipated. Or any combination in between.

Security can be applied anywhere, and at any connectivity edge. It’s most providers that can’t deliver on that need—not the restrictions of the work-location scenario. Find the one that can.

Ken Xie is the CEO at Fortinet

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