Next-gen networks call for strategic security

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Next-gen networks call for strategic security

Government networks face an environment of escalating risk from cyberattacks, a painful reality in the digital world. Protecting sensitive government and constituent information is unquestionably the most serious challenge agencies face.  

Modernizing networks is one way agencies can address these challenges, but they must be skeptical when evaluating new networking solutions -- particularly when it comes to their security capabilities. Adoption of managed broadband, together with security improvements to existing legacy technologies, offers a hybrid approach to network modernization that is cost-effective and delivers results.  Agencies can achieve increased capacity and availability as well as enhanced security, even with the additional Internet traffic cloud adoption brings to agency networks.

The private sector has already begun the shift to a hybrid network model in order to realize more usable bandwidth, strengthen network capacity, increase availability and enhance security. As the hybrid network standard begins to take root in government, the additional bandwidth can support cloud-based apps, bring-your-own-device initiatives and the Internet of Things, all of which will drive increased network traffic and the number of connected devices up to 20.8 billion by 2020.

As network borders continue to expand with growing numbers of connected devices, today’s government networks simply aren’t equipped to deal with tomorrow’s attacks. Because networks are very flat and open inside the firewall, advanced threats currently abuse internal/external port classification vulnerabilities to gain access to the entire enterprise network. These types of weaknesses, along with rising concerns over insider threats, underscore the need for effective internal access controls and require a shift to a more integrated and layered security strategy.

Deploying a firewall at the perimeter of a network may have been an acceptable baseline protection 10 or 20 years ago, but that is no longer the case. Rather than the traditional ‘outside-in’ firewall approach, the Internal Segmentation Firewall (ISFW) model positions itself at strategic, distributed points to guard key assets in the network, whether they be applications or specific servers. In doing so, this model secures the access layer without restricting traffic visibility. Constant, real-time visibility combined with protection is the only effective method of protecting against an attacker. While legacy firewalls adeptly leverage these capabilities externally, an ISFW protects against a threat that has already gained access to the network.

The ideal enterprise firewall, therefore, will grant awareness and control over both applications and user identity, enabling agencies to more effectively enforce security policies that monitor which users use what applications, and what level of access is permissible to each. Combining this capability with deep packet inspection technology that scans the content of incoming packets for threats -- even those delivered through encrypted connections like HTTPS -- provides a powerful layer of protection for both users and the network itself. Lastly, a modern firewall should have failsafes in place so that even if certain elements of an advanced persistent threat elude packet inspection, suspicious or high-risk objects can be identified and submitted to a safe sandbox where they can be quickly tested for malicious activity and payloads.

These modern firewalls will ideally function as a critical component of a greater strategic security architecture that blankets the infrastructure from the datacenter to the cloud. This comprehensive security fabric should be tightly woven into the various layers of the infrastructure to provide effective controls,  visibility and automation to reduce management complexity, demands on IT resources and the likelihood of a successful attack.

With advanced persistent threats poised to continue assaulting the government enterprise, it is vital that agencies update their networks and network security to incorporate the latest technologies. At the federal level, agencies and their CIOs need to use the new authorities granted to them over the past year by Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act to bring about the next-generation of secure and more efficient federal networks, ensuring that they are acquiring technologies that effectively segment and mitigate internal and external risks.

About the Authors

Tony Bardo is assistant vice president for government solutions at Hughes Network Systems.

Steve Kirk is vice president, Federal Solutions, at Fortinet.

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