Virtualized network security

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How agencies can bake data security into IoT and disaster recovery

In April 2018, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory joined a long-list of public and private organizations that fell victim to a successful cyber attack. The hackers got away with what was reported to be about 500MB of data. A subsequent inspector general report revealed that it had found “multiple IT security control weaknesses which reduced JPL’s ability to prevent, detect and mitigate attacks targeting its systems and networks, thereby exposing NASA systems and data to exploitation by cyber criminals.” In this particular instance, the hackers accessed the JPL network by targeting a Raspberry Pi (RasPi) computer, which the report advised had not been authorized to be attached to the JPL network in the first place.

NASA is not alone. With the invention of the small credit card-sized RasPi computer, people all over the world -- especially beginners -- can harness the power of computing and digital technologies for professional and personal endeavors. It has opened the door to aspiring technologists in every corner (some corners darker than others) for whom RasPi has made programming much easier to learn and considerably more affordable. Countless articles and books have been written on the subject. And, countless RasPi computers have popped up in organizations, large and small, around the world.

Today, RasPi is used by those that wish to learn about and build internet of things devices. RasPi is a great platform for IoT -- it offers a very inexpensive computer that runs Linux and provides a set of open GPIO (general purpose input/output) pins that allow users to control electronic components. Organizations like NASA that leveraged RasPi on their network (sanctioned or not) opened the door not only to tremendous benefit, but to those with malicious intent as well. However, that needn’t be the case.

Many enterprise organizations are now leveraging a new class of data security -- software-defined perimeters. In 2020, government agencies will combine RasPi with SDP, to create highly secure low-cost IoT networks. For those that wish to harness its power, SDP software will improve the security of data flows between devices by removing an IoT device's network presence, eliminating any potential attack surfaces created by using a traditional network perimeter.

Why SDP and not traditional network perimeter security? The truth is traditional network perimeters, such as virtual private networks, were never designed or intended for today’s perimeter-less world. VPNs and other older technologies, for example, are complex to set up and manage, can lead to performance issue, and require costly dedicated appliances and routers. Not to mention, their management absorbs a great deal of the IT support team’s valuable time -- time that could be dedicated to activities more directly tied to the agency’s bottom-line objectives. And, most importantly, they create very large and highly vulnerable attack surfaces.

Today’s SDP on the other hand, provides application-level segmentation, isolation and protection, overcoming the limitations inherent in traditional perimeter security. It was designed for how government works today. SDP ensures a zero-trust environment, which means exactly what it says. An IT architecture that employs zero-trust solutions, such as SDP, does not automatically trust anyone or anything inside or outside the organization; it demands verification before allowing connection or access to systems and data. SDP reduces the attack surface by creating a discrete, encrypted network, making everything invisible and inaccessible, until verified and authorized.

Unfortunately, RasPi is not the only data security thorn in today’s government IT professional’s side. Many agencies are now leveraging a cloud-based disaster recovery strategy to get replicas off-site and eliminate the cost and complexity of building and maintaining a DR site. Unfortunately, these DR strategies typically depend on a VPN to connect and move the data from the on-premises source to the cloud-based target. That’s a problem here, too, for the reasons outlined above. VPNs and other traditional technology certainly were not engineered with today’s multi- hybrid-cloud compute environment in mind either. In 2020, SDP will overcome these issues with a new class of DR software with integrated SDP. This new SDP-enhanced DR software will enable organizations to build smart endpoint DR environments that can seamlessly span on-premises and the cloud without the added costs, complexities and other issues of a VPN.

Gaining and maintaining the upper hand

2020 lies just around the corner and, with it, the promise of continued technology innovation that will touch and improve countless areas of our professional and personal lives. And, while we would like to focus on the tremendous benefits, it is an unfortunate reality that there are those that will manipulate it for damaging and even dangerous purposes. In 2020, government can gain the upper hand with SDP, enabling agencies to take advantage of the ubiquity of RasPi to build and manage high-value IoT networks and transform cloud-based disaster recovery.

About the Author

Don Boxley, Jr. is a co-founder and CEO of DH2i.

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