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Deploying Cloud Security for Shifting and Evolving Defenses
Cloud offers agile and flexible defenses that consider situational context and real time management
By: Kevin Nikkhoo
Dec. 10, 2012 08:00 AM
A few weeks back I was watching my beloved San Diego Chargers lose in a most embarrassing way on Monday night. And in the waning seconds of blaming the quarterback for such ineffectual 2nd half play, it occurred to me, it wasn’t his fault. It was the coach. It was the lack of planning for the type of attack the Denver Broncos would bring. It was the lack of leadership that should have easily closed the deal. In short, it was sticking to the status quo while everything around was changing.
My second epiphany was that this is a spot-on metaphor for the recent spate of bank hacks being levied by the hacktivist group Izz ad-Din al-Qassam. Not to make light of a serious issue, but the Charger collapse reminded me that the most insidious and effective attacks are not brute force in nature. In fact, most banks (according to compliance mandates) have decent processes to repel these attacks. In this case, the brutish DDoS (denial of service) was a feint to misdirect a smaller DDoS attack launched at the same time…and it was these more subtle attacks that were effective against 8 banks and counting. Continuing the football metaphor, it is like showing the blitz and falling back into tight pass defense resulting in the quarterback throwing an interception.
So the moral of the story is organizations need to evolve their security platforms to provide an agile shifting defense and change with the scenarios.
Now this is not to say the sky is falling, but a reputable IT security report noted a 50% increase in total number of DDoS attacks since Q2 of 2011 and a 10% increase since April. This means it’s time to look at your defensive processes and ensure they transcend compliance code. But moreso, to start anticipating what new threats, compliance requirements and business needs might be coming your way. You can’t be that guy who says “I’ll worry about it when I have to worry about it.” You simply can’t be paralyzed by the status quo. It’s a recipe for throwing 4 interceptions in the second half and squandering a 24 point lead.
We grouse a great deal about the burden of compliance, but they create a wall of protection that would otherwise create greater vulnerabilities. But all the audits, all the bureaucracy…it simply detracts from you being able to do the job you were hired to do. So the question begs, how do we evolve? How can we make security management easier yet stronger. Effective yet efficient. Agile yet layered? Proactive rather than reactive? If these questions are keeping you up at night, then it is time you took a deeper look at security-as-a-service or security managed from the cloud.
If you approach the security issue from the traditional sense of on-premise brick-building, server-stacking, resource-adding development, then yes, there are significantly costs in capital expenditures, human resources, and still not guaranteed that you have the necessary functionality, capability and visibility to anticipate tomorrow’s issues.
By implementing a best-of-breed enterprise you gain a holistic view of what’s happening to your enterprise in real time. And because of the cloud computing advantages, the price point is very affordable (for what you are paying in support and maintenance, you could integrate an entire enterprise solution). You gain capability, you lessen expenses and, if your vendor also practices security as a service, your automated efficiencies come with 7/24/365 review of your logs by a live expert analyst.
But let’s put a real face on potential changes. Take FFIEC standards; very soon they will be more than guidelines. It's highly likely they will become compliance mandates. And they force you to address possible vulnerability gaps in your enterprise. Will you be prepared to meet the shifts in emphasis?
Most compliance-beholden organizations must recognize that security is not just about implementing virus scan and configuring firewalls. Ways and devices people reach your networks are changing quickly. Beyond log management protocols, you might need to add a SIEM or access management components. But the interpretation of layered security is choosing what is monitored and not relying on just a firewall to beat back possible intrusions, worms, phishing expeditions and user carelessness. You need multiple means, protocols and processes managed centrally.
There’s a saying in security circles: If you’ve noticed it, it’s already too late. The goal is to prevent, alert and remediate. And the only way to do this is through round the clock vigilance. Anything less than 24/7/365 monitoring opens the risk door too wide. It’s a cliché, but we are all acutely aware that hackers don’t sleep. But part of the question is not that monitoring is active, but how is it monitored? What data is collected? If you automate too much, you lose the human expertise; the context and the ability to respond effectively. Cloud-based security can cover a large enterprise or modest SMB with the same watchfulness while integrating the human intelligence assessment. Additionally, it provides additional resources, wider intelligence and greater coverage you don't have to fund.
By applying a solution that uses real-time forensics including advanced correlations to examine for specific patterns, you create real time operational visibility. By recognizing traffic patterns correlated with a variety of other rules and processes you not only remove the false positive alerts, but can predict where your perimeter is soft and takes the necessary steps to shore them up.
Passwords are not enough. Time and again this has proven to be the weakest link. However, by instituting a solution that includes multi-credentialing, identity management, provisioning and the like, you can secure access to the most sensitive information. And if you make is easy for the user and minimize the impact of their usage experience, you take another step in maintaining the necessary trust while still ensuring people only see what they are supposed to see.
And all this can be deployed and managed from the cloud. The technology and security of these features has already matured to meet the concept.
These FFIEC guidelines seem very vague, but their meaning is clear: today’s operation needs to change. Not to keep up with the bureaucracy, but to improve the scalability, flexibility and control of an often volatile and fluid IT threatscape. However, don’t mistake this as a suggestion for mega-suite replacement. This should be part of any go-forward initiative that builds on or what is already in place. The cloud provides that agility to maintain an enterprise-powered security solution, yet adapt to the changing needs faster and more completely than most organizations can do on their own.
With that said, the best defense against an aggressive opponent is knowing what play is being called. Your holistic view gives you the ability to predict when the blitzes are coming, from what side, and most important, provide the flexibility to call an audible. One thing is for certain, you just can't stand still anymore; you can't rely on the status quo I just wish the Chargers saw that on Monday.
As an additional note, I participated in the development of a white paper for Fairway Technologies called , “Get Your Head Into The Clouds! Industry Experts Answer Today’s Cloud Computing Questions“ ! Fairway’s collaborative new report not only examines the cloud computing issues that are dominating the industry, but also identifies key challenges behind cloud adoption and implementation, and presents best practices for organizations to develop and implement a sound cloud strategy. Guidance on cloud service brokers, open source cloud, data destruction, cloud bursting, and other topical issues are also discussed.
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