Network security has probably never experienced a period of so much flux. Things have always moved fast, but right now it can feel radical. The proliferation of zero trust and rapid adoption of cloud access technologies has accelerated the onset of SASE, a once-futuristic concept that suddenly seems practical and attractive.
Eric Hanselman, Principal Research Analyst at 451 Research, spends a lot of time speaking with IT and security leaders at the forefront of this shift. He recently spent just over 30 minutes talking with us about the trends he has noticed, as well as trying to simplify some of the buzzwords, hype and jargon that are rife in the network security space. You can watch the full webinar here, or click the window below.
Changing priorities in IT
During the discussion, Hanselman talks frequently about a study conducted by 451 Research designed to better understand the post-COVID IT landscape. In the Voice of the Enterprise, 319 respondents answered a variety of questions about their own organizations’ experiences during and after the lockdown.
One area of interest was the constantly evolving priority list of the modern CIO. 451 Researched aimed to get at the heart of this, asking participants to rank their most important parts of the technology stack.
Which of the following technologies do you think will become more important as a result of COVID-19?
Perhaps surprisingly, despite mountains of hype and expectation around the newer, shinier markets like SASE and SDP, it’s the more traditional categories of technology that are top of mind for most organizations. Around two thirds of respondents listed MFA and VPN as the most important technologies, despite being well over a decade old. It’s a sign that although the latest solutions offer a lot to be excited about, there remains a significantly long tail of requirements for more established technologies before widespread adoption can take place.
This sentiment is supported by another part of the same study, which asked participants to rate the resiliency and value of a VPN. Over half of those who took part described the VPN – considered by some to be a legacy product – as making an organization stronger. Of course, Hanselman is quick to add, the best strategies require both a VPN and a ZTNA, SDP or SASE solution.
Does a VPN make you stronger?
It’s a theme that Hanselman discusses in depth. While there is a recognition that SASE, SDP and zero trust each provide a compelling reason to invest, it will be a long time before the overwhelming majority of organizations are ready to jettison their existing infrastructure altogether. His advice is to find solutions that can provide the best of today and tomorrow, allowing organizations to support the use-cases of their current workforce while simultaneously evolving their strategy and transitioning to the more agile advantages of SASE. This message resonates loudly in further material published by 451 Research in late 2020, using VPN and SDP as example categories where most CIOs see a strong need for embracing both.
“It’s becoming clear that secure access providers that can address multiple user personas and use cases spanning both traditional VPN and SDP could have an advantage”Garret Bekker, Principal Analyst, Information Security, 451 Research
Embracing the new
With so many emerging categories for CIOs and CISOs to familiarize themselves with, Hanselman is careful to take the time to reassure leaders that there is no right answer. Rather than obsessing over adopting them all to a strict criteria, he encourages organizations to experiment with technologies and adopt them slowly into their strategy in the long term – selecting only those that can deliver value to their unique business. Hanselman provides a quick summary of some of the most important terms for IT and security professionals to acquaint themselves with.
VPN – the simplest but most robust of remote access technologies, but far more capable than many organizations give it credit for. Hanselman encourages leaders to demand more from their VPN, encouraging cloud adoption, policy management and optimized usage over legacy implementations.
Zero trust – not so much a category but a concept. Zero trust is an idea designed to minimize the attack surface, inverting security assumptions by denying access by default. Users cannot access any materials until a dynamic assessment of their risk posture takes place, only granting access to legitimate requests and preventing anything else.
SDP – software defined perimeters take the philosophy of zero trust and apply it to remote access. These solutions include contextual analysis of every request, allowing or denying access to single resources based on the risk profile of each. It is typically seen as a successor to VPNs, though 451 recommend adopting the best of both.
CASB – a maturing category of solutions that protect the enterprise resources in the cloud. As more organizations make the transition to cloud-first and SaaS applications, securing them from attackers and unsanctioned access has grown in importance. CASB tools are specifically built to safeguard cloud resources from unnecessary risk.
SASE – a relatively new term that encapsulates a broad mix of technologies. SASE is most frequently used to group together more specific categories like VPN, SDP and CASB to reflect the changing set of tools that organizations need to implement in an environment where most workforces are distributed.
Enhancing the user experience
One of the strongest lessons to emerge from 2020 has been that no matter what IT and security leaders wish to implement, the employee experience cannot be overlooked. With the majority of workers now operating in a remote capacity, at least in part, ensuring that they have a high quality user experience has never been more important – with many including experience monitoring technologies as part of the SASE mix.
The 451 Research study also looked into ways that organizations are seeking to monitor the employee experience moving forward.
If remote working becomes more permanent, how will we gain the ability to monitor the experience?
Once again, despite significant buzz about cloud technologies like CASB and CDN, most organizations are looking to established endpoints to gather the necessary telemetry information about the remote working experience.
For more on experience monitoring technologies, and advice, data and case studies on improving the experience, you can read this openly available report on the topic.
It’s clear that the intense demands of 2020 have accelerated the changes that were already taking place in the network security space, though 451 Research offer a more considered and practical message for the modern IT organization: do not abandon the requirements of today as you embrace the technologies of tomorrow.