Redefining network security

Opinion Wieland Alge Apr 09, 2014

How trends in application security are challenging the traditional notion of a network's organisational boundary

A recent survey of more than 400 small, mid and large-sized enterprises carried out by Freeform Dynamics on behalf of Barracuda Networks highlighted escalating pressure on enterprise IT systems.

Security emerged as a clear concern with changing access patterns, a range of external threats, escalating costs and the unintended consequences of virtualisation, which are all hampering the management of its management.

More than half (52 percent) of those surveyed admitted that managing security is a significant problem due to a “disjointed, complex and hard-to-manage” environment. Meanwhile, almost two-thirds (63 percent) stated that changes in how data is used and moved poses a significant challenge when it comes to accessing applications.

Asked to compare activity today with what’s likely to unfold over the next three years, responses suggested that the level of pressure is only going to increase. Today most of the load on systems typically comes from employees working in fixed office locations, but looking to the future, growth is anticipated around all forms of internal and external access.

For IT departments to regain control requires a fundamental shift in both the approach to enterprise technology, and the attitude of users. So lean in:

  1. The first change that needs to be made is in how the infrastructure is viewed, switching away from being service-led to focused instead on performance and availability management.
  2. Secondly there needs to be a move away from the ‘network perimeter’ approach to security, replaced instead with multi-layered protection accompanied by effective analytics.

To achieve these changes a concerted effort must be made to break the ‘reactive investment’ habit. The fact is, most investment revolves around tactical requirements such as the replacement of obsolete equipment or implementation of new applications.

Historically requirements and technology have evolved continuously, resulting in the piecemeal evolution of IT networks which then become complex and disjointed. When considering security in particular, improving the access infrastructure is not just about incremental extensions or like-for-like replacement of old kit with the latest equivalent. Indeed, the trends in application access evident from the study challenge the traditional notion of an organisational boundary, or network perimeter.

This comes through in a couple of different ways from the research, with a general consensus that it is necessary to focus more on establishing perimeters around applications and data sets.

In practice, moving down the application perimeter route involves defining application-aware policies in the network that are applied regardless of the source of traffic and the physical location of the application and data. This multi-layered approach incorporates application and data set level protection embedded in the network, and has two main advantages over the network perimeter approach:

  • Firstly, if one application is compromised, others are not automatically exposed as they are each protected individually.
  • Secondly, the network level protection measures in place guard against internal dangers as well as external threats.

While it is by no means a new idea, it’s clear from the research that many don’t currently have the pre-requisite capability required for a multi layered solution in their network. Modernisation and the introduction of more functionality and additional control is therefore going to be required in the majority of cases to keep up with changing demands and the evolving threat landscape.

A stepping stone towards a more agile, scalable and secure IT network may be the implementation of ADC load balancers. Today, companies of all sizes, location and data constructs use ADCs to optimise their complex application environments from web applications, to Exchange, SharePoint and databases.

Load balancing functionality enables the effective distribution of workload across multiple servers to achieve optimal resource utilisation, maximum throughput, minimal response time, and avoidance of overload. What is more, ADCs may include web application firewall functionality which defends against attacks on application specific vulnerabilities (such as cross site scripting vulnerabilities) which may not be stopped by a conventional firewall. Some ADCs even have dedicated SSL hardware, enabling them to establish SSL connections with clients and handle the encryption and decryption work, while communicating with back end servers using standard http connections.

Keeping up with change while ensuring an infrastructure that keeps everyone happy is a tall order. Solutions such as ADC balancers, which enable improved performance, provide the opportunity for system, process and budget efficiencies which might just help the IT crew stay one step ahead.

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Image: Shutterstock

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