Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Complexity is the Worst Enemy of Security, Time for a New Approach with Network Security?

Bruce Schneier summed it up best in 1999 when he said "Complexity is the Worst Enemy of Security" in an essay titled A Plea for Simplicity, correctly predicting the cybersecurity problems we encounter today.

The IT industry has gone through lots of changes over the past few years, yet when it comes to cybersecurity, the mindset has remained the same. The current thinking around cybersecurity falls into the definition of insanity, with many organisations doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, and are then shocked when their company is the latest to hit the hacking headlines.

The current security model is broken and is currently too complex. As Paul German, CEO, Certes Networks, argues, it’s time to strip network security back and focus on the data. 

What should Organisations Really be Protecting?
Ultimately, by overcomplicating network security for far too long, the industry has failed - which won’t come as a surprise to many. We’ve all learned the lessons from the high profile data breaches such as Dixon’s Carphone and historical breaches like Ticketmaster or Target; what they succeeded in showing us was that current attempts to secure corporate networks are just not enough. And the reason for this? Quite simply, it’s because organisations are trying to protect something they no longer own. For a long time, security thinking has focused purely on the network, honing in on the insecurity of the network and trying to build up network defences to protect the data that runs over it in order to combat the challenges.

Yet, this way of thinking still leaves a problem untouched: we don’t always own the networks over which our data runs, so therefore focusing on this aspects is leaving many other doors wide open. The corporate network used to remain in the data centre, but in the digital economy present today, the corporate network spans over corporate locations worldwide, including data centres, private clouds and public clouds. Additionally, this data is not just shared with employees, but to third parties whose devices and policies cannot be easily controlled. Add legacy security measures into the mix which simply weren’t constructed to address the complexity and diversity of today’s corporate network, and it is extremely apparent why this is no longer enough.

So, what needs to change? First and foremost, the industry needs to take a step in the right direction and put data at the forefront of security strategies.

The Security Mindset Needs to Change - and It Needs to Change Now
In an attempt to keep their data and infrastructure secure, organisations have layered technology on top of technology. As a result of this, not only has the technology stack itself become far too complicated but the number of resources, operational overhead and cost needed to manage it have only contributed to the failing security mindset.

Anyone in the IT industry should be able to acknowledge that something needs to change. The good news is that the change is simple. Organisations need to start with a security overlay that covers the networks, independent of the infrastructure, rather than taking the conventional approach of building the strategy around the infrastructure. The network itself must become irrelevant, which will then encourage a natural simplicity in approach.

As well as enabling organisations to better secure their data, this approach also has economic and commercial benefits. Taking intelligence out of the network allows organisations to focus it on its core task: managing traffic. In turn, money and resources can be saved and then better invested in a true security model with data protection at its heart.

A New Era of Cybersecurity
To begin this mindset change, organisations need to start thinking about security as an overlay on top of existing infrastructure. They also need to introduce a software-defined approach to data security, enabling a centralised orchestration of security policy. This centralised orchestration enforcing capabilities such as software-defined application access control, cryptographic segmentation, data-in-motion privacy and a software-defined perimeter, data is completely protected on its journey across any network, while hackers are restricted from moving laterally across the network once a breach has occurred. Additionally, adopting innovative approaches such as Layer 4 encryption which renders the data itself useless, and therefore worthless to hackers, without impacting the operational visibility of the enterprise network and data flows, will further ensure the protection of the organisation’s network.

The fact is that the industry has overcomplicated network security for too long. If the industry continues to try the same methods over and over again, without making any changes, then there is no chance of progression. It’s time for organisations to start afresh and adopt a new, simple software-defined security overlay approach. 

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Great article Dave. What do you think it will take for the scales to tip and for companies to see SDPs as a "must have"?

Dave Whitelegg said...

Many large enterprises engage with either IT, digital or cyber transformation programmes, with an objective to make wholesale business infrastructure efficiencies and to reduce risk, this typically involves standardising on next bread technical solutions and adopting more cloud\outsourcing services. I think such programmes, and business in general, need to take a more data-centric security strategy, bringing the goal of protecting business information assets into the foreground of their thinking, as opposed to overfocusing on fixing the existing flaws and inefficiencies of the existing infrastructure and technology.