TIC 3.0: Questions to guide cloud security for the remote workforce

Agencies must embrace a TIC 3.0 readiness approach that sets them up for short-term fixes as well as long-term success.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has been moving toward the next phase of its Trusted Internet Connection 3.0 policy for many months. TIC 3.0 seeks to secure federal data and networks as well as provide better visibility into agency traffic, including that in the cloud. The surge in remote work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic means TIC 3.0 comes not a moment too soon; in fact, CISA issued interim telework guidance on April 8 in response to the dramatic telework increase.

As personnel carry on their missions from outside the relative safety of government security platforms, both the end-user experience and security are of paramount importance to operational integrity. Overtaxed remote-access solutions, however, have introduced additional security and productivity concerns.

In the scramble to sustain operations, some misconceptions about what TIC 3.0 readiness looks like have taken hold. It is certainly urgent to maintain missions, but in doing so, it’s important to embrace an approach that sets agencies up for short-term quick fixes as well as long-term success.

There are three key questions to consider in adopting the appropriate solution.

1. Can the solution scale rapidly and securely?

It’s important to understand what cloud resources the solution will have dedicated to a specific agency’s needs. Is the solution based on a single-tenant or multitenant architecture? If the latter, other agencies or even commercial customers could be competing for resources when extra capacity is needed. To meet fast growth requirements, a solution should be scalable across cloud resources. If more equipment must be added to a private cloud environment when expanded capacity is required, that will take time and limit rapid reaction when it’s most needed.

Also, when provisioned, will the agency be provided unique IP addresses, or will those addresses be shared? Accidental blacklisting of shared addresses could impact a broad range of customers. A future-proofed solution should allow adequate breadth to increase an agency’s footprint without having to invest in more physical infrastructure that may create budget shortfalls and acquisition logjams.

2. Is security balanced with flexibility to meet unique agency needs?

TIC 3.0 strategic program goals are oriented toward a flexible, risk-based approach. Guidance is descriptive versus prescriptive, and the implementation framework facilitates dynamic use cases and security capabilities that adapt to IT modernization initiatives. The TIC 3.0 remote user use case and interim telework guidance advise departments and agencies to secure traffic for trust zones based on the sensitivity of the data they process and the level of control over the asset accessed. While the traditional TIC use case is still valid, applying the same high level of controls to remote users may effectively re-create the same challenges TIC 3.0 was designed to address.

A solution’s security must also be balanced with flexibility to meet an agency’s changing situation, like the current surge in remote work. For example, if there is a need to accommodate rapid bursts of network traffic, is the extra required bandwidth guaranteed? Is the solution flexible under the set pricing arrangement, or will it cost extra? If so, how is that charged? Does the service-level agreement cover all of the required security features? Is it enforceable? If so, how is the SLA monitored?

Performance is another major consideration. Just ask any government end user who has had to work remotely. With personnel stationed around the world, agencies require ready access to a cloud solution provider’s points of presence. That access should not be limited to the particular cloud infrastructure on which an agency is initially provisioned. Doing so just slows performance and frustrates users.

Finally, the solution should be flexible, able not only to address a variety of risk postures and associated security capabilities, but also able to accommodate current and anticipated TIC 3.0 use cases. While current events and TIC guidance released in the past few months have brought remote users into focus, how will a TIC 3.0 telework solution align with zero-trust guidance, the internet of things and DevOps (Continuous integration/continuous delivery) adoption

3. Does the solution work well with other infrastructure investments?

Many branch offices are geographically distributed and lack full-time IT staff, making deployment, management, change control and hardware refreshes difficult. Any new security solution should be able to connect those remote networks using the infrastructure (e.g., routers and firewalls) an agency already has in place. Another option is to adopt a software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) approach that connects remote branches using zero-touch provisioning.

Also, most agencies don’t operate on a single cloud platform; they rely on a multicloud deployment. It’s critical that a security solution operates within and supports a multicloud environment matched to that reality.

Of course, the more stitched-together components added to a solution, the greater the administrative system management. Applying a solution that enables a singular management pane across an agency’s cloud, virtual and physical environments will ease cross-platform management to accommodate growth while allowing commonality of security posture and policy control.

There’s a lot for agency IT leaders to manage right now, and this unprecedented period of disruption will likely settle out to a different dynamic than before the pandemic. While the dramatic remote work surge will eventually ease, a new model that includes an increasingly distributed workforce will likely endure.

In that new environment, even more than we’ve seen over the last few years, the agencies that offer the most technologically easy and accommodating user experiences will attract and retain the best talent and better fulfill their missions. As agencies seek to provide modern, productive, and secure environments that meet the TIC 3.0 bar, thoughtfully approaching security in this unique moment of opportunity will ease present risks and serve agencies well in the long run.

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