As a new year unfolds, the world is a lot more confident and prepared to secure their users, data and network in a remote work environment. The Coronavirus pandemic forced the hand of enterprises of all sizes and kinds, and we now see users working from anywhere and using all kinds of devices. Security has clearly moved to the edge. The “perimeter” of an organization is no longer relevant. We must agree that 2020 was the year of the cloud.
COVID-19 made cloud adoption, not a choice but an imperative for businesses and government agencies. However, cloud adoption was already on the rise before the pandemic hit the world. For instance, in 2019, Gartner had proposed a new architecture that flipped the traditional stack, converging networking and security into something called the “secure access service edge” or SASE (pronounced “sassy”) for short. Digital transformation, a rise in remote work, and ongoing cloud adoption were already forcing organizations and government agencies to manage risk in new ways—and that was before the pandemic. The Coronavirus, as we all know, forced an unprecedented mass shift to remote work, which has accelerated those trends even more. According to Gartner, the pandemic provided an opportunity for Indian CIOs to test long-pending projects such as remote working, which delivered the promise for many enterprises and helped them stay afloat in the most testing times. The success of these digital innovations has brought back the focus on investments in IT. IT spending in India is expected to go up by 6% in 2021 to $81.9 billion. As more enterprises start spending on IT, it will give a fillip to the Digital India mission too, leading to more users availing themselves of eservices.
Today, users are accessing data and applications from more devices and geographies than ever before. From a security perspective, that means people are the new perimeter. As data and applications continue to leave the data center, there’s no need to route users through it for access. In order to keep this new perimeter secure, though, a cloud-native approach to both security and networking is crucial. For India, cloud adoption becomes even more important as the country is set to become the most-populous nation in the world by end of this decade.
Re-architecting the cloud
The technologies that comprise a SASE architecture are not necessarily new. Instead, what’s new is their convergence, or level of connectivity. Simply bundling traditional networking and security stacks and putting them in the cloud is insufficient. It creates holes for attackers, as well as strain resources and rack up extra costs. I’m reminded of regional security stacks of non-integrated, multivendor, best-of-breed solutions that used to cost a lot and delivered very little.
Software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), Zero Trust, cloud access security brokers (CASB), and firewall-as-a-service are common core ingredients of a SASE suite. SASE is a framework for these technologies to be re-architected and re-designed in the cloud. Many organizations were already connecting straight to the cloud using SD-WAN technologies, which bypass centralized premises-based security gateways. But that shift cannot overlook crucial security defenses, which must be able to function wherever users are interacting with data.
SD-WAN solutions should seamlessly utilize cloud-based web security and CASB services to scan and monitor traffic across all locations. If a user accesses a cloud app and begins transferring sensitive information to a memory stick, that must be detected and blocked. Without such capabilities, no government agency or organization can protect data in the cloud.
Meanwhile, Zero Trust means that no users are trusted by default and organizations need to proactively control all interactions between people, data, and systems to control risks. Users must be authenticated by ICAM (Identity, Credential, and Access Management) and IdAM (Identity and Access Management). But authentication can’t stop at the front door. User monitoring is also required to detect any anomalous actions that might signal either inadvertent risk or an actual breach – and then offer a dynamic, quick way to respond.
Inspection and understanding of data policies are required in a SASE framework to properly apply policies.
Putting the Framework in Action
All of these components must work together in order for a SASE framework to become reality. Once again, unified, cloud-native services are particularly important with users logging on from all across the country. There are countless benefits to embracing SASE, such as:
- Networking teams can improve performance and consolidate the number of devices they must deploy. This helps security teams regain visibility and control of data at the user level.
- By following a SASE framework, government agencies and organizations can provide consistent firewalls, intrusion prevention, web security, and cloud app access control everywhere, managed from a single console in the cloud. Operations speed up and friction is removed, preventing a slowdown by traditional security services and architectures.
Even before the pandemic, vendors were eager to take advantage of the new, growing SASE market. According to Gartner, 20% of enterprises will have adopted these capabilities from a single vendor by 2023, compared to just 5% in 2019. We will find these numbers to be low in retrospect, as COVID-19 forced and accelerated a massive move to the cloud.
But not all SASE architectures are equally well integrated. Some vendors cut down their time to market through acquisitions or partnerships—a shortcut to convergence. Vendors who link a wide swath of disparate services may not manage them as well, and their platforms may have higher latency. Because this market is evolving so quickly—and because so many government departments and organizations are working to totally rethink their approach to cybersecurity in the wake of the pandemic — it may be better to begin with short-term contracts to test utilization, ease of use, and effectiveness. Since these products are offered “as a service,” subscription licensing may be available across offerings, which allows for greater flexibility.
The Bottom Line
When Gartner proposed the SASE architecture, there was no way to guess that a pandemic was just around the bend. What passes for normalcy in the wake of the coronavirus is vastly different from what passed for normalcy just a year or two ago. Yet, despite how much has changed, the SASE framework was, in a sense, ahead of its time. The pandemic simply accelerated the need to combine networking and security into a single architecture, so users can go direct-to-cloud without putting sensitive data or applications at risk.
SASE represents a fantastic starting point for government agencies and organizations to rethink their infrastructure and security. The key is being judicious about which vendors they choose, fully understanding desired outcomes, and how seamlessly different components of their SASE architecture work together.
By Surendra Singh, Senior Director & Country Manager (India), Forcepoint