As the technologies we rely on continue to evolve, they are growing at a rate that outpaces our ability to protect them. This increasing risk potential necessitates a change in approach and the ability for organizations to automate more of their network security operations to reduce their cyber-attack surface.
One of the primary ways this issue is compounded is from the widely acknowledged labor shortage of IT security specialists, which results in overworked resources and increases in misconfigurations caused by human errors. Security analysts and engineers spend the vast majority of their time worrying about vulnerabilities, but Gartner believes that through 2023, 99 percent of all firewall breaches will be the result of misconfigurations, not flaws. IBM also noted in a recent survey that a 424 percent increase in data breaches due to cloud misconfigurations were caused by human errors.
Recognizing these findings, the need for enterprises to automate network security policy management processes to reduce human errors and improve efficiencies is proven, but some organizations are still leery of making the automation transition for fear of losing control over their IT security visibility and decision making. Luckily, they don’t need to choose between automation and maintaining control.
Organizations can protect against these concerns by beginning with a form of automation that matches their current IT security capabilities, then advancing to increasing methods of automation as their confidence and technical maturity level grows.
Improve network control, reduce complexity and errors
Some organizations may believe that automating network security operations will reduce their visibility and control over policies, change processes and ability to comply with security and privacy regulations. However, automation can actually provide more control by eliminating guesswork and manual management for these areas, which reduces the likelihood of misconfigurations and increased risk.
Network security policy automation provides numerous benefits to organizations including minimizing human error; increasing operational efficiency while reducing security costs; streamlining the friction between DevOps and SecOps; increasing overall security agility; and decreasing compliance violations by proactively checking against regulation and internal compliance measures prior to implementing new changes.
Create a customized approach to network security automation
I recognize that not every organization is ready to fully automate security processes out of the gate. Therefore, I recommend they first acknowledge their current IT security maturity and then define how they want to evolve their automated processes over time. These decisions should be based on the company’s business goals, staffing resources, customer needs and technical sophistication.
The next step is to place the company on an automation transformation curve to determine its technology advancement path. I like to think of the automation spectrum as having four key stages, which improve security process time and efficiency:
1. Design Automation: Offers a basic level of automation, where security specialists still manually monitor and react to environmental changes. Meanwhile, the automated system provides intelligent design recommendations to suggest network security improvements, and auto-generated compliance and risk-scoring reports to improve workflows and correction time.
2. Implementation Automation: Continues to improve speed and efficiency by also providing automated network security rule implementation, verification and documentation. This stage is still primarily driven by operator control but increases automation to enable security specialists to direct their attention to more critical needs.
3. Zero-Touch Automation: The network system now monitors and reacts to environmental changes, but the security specialists remain in control of global policies. At this stage, implementation changes are deployed to all devices automatically, and intent-based standards and golden rule guardrails can be easily defined to alleviate time-consuming routine changes.
4. Adaptive Security Enforcement: For some time, our industry has considered zero-touch automation the end-state, but now a new stage goes beyond this type of automation to create a truly adaptive network security model. This automation approach is scalable across systems and automatically recalibrates global security policies as it auto-detects any underlying network and infrastructure changes. This approach also enables businesses to maintain control over security operations, while maximizing efficiencies and gaining continuing compliance with security policies.
This multi-staged approach allows organizations to match their pace of automation to meet their current network security capabilities and future ambitions. To determine where to start, enterprises should survey the type of processes they want to fully automate, partially automate or remain untouched. Then the company can automate within their comfort level to move as fast as their systems allow.
Explore the next frontier of network security automation
I believe that the new frontier of network security automation will help enterprises move beyond zero touch implementation to continuously adapt their security processes to gain real-time visibility and control over global network changes, achieve new levels of efficiencies, and free up IT security resources for more strategic initiatives.
This adaptive network security model also provides the flexibility needed to respond to critical incidents and apply additional changes across all environments as they occur. Businesses shouldn’t have to make a choice between speed or security, and by continuously monitoring and adapting their network systems, protecting global polices across all environments and maintaining compliance, they wouldn’t have to make any tradeoffs.
There is an automated network security policy management solution that meets the needs and capabilities of every organization. Organizations don’t need to fear automation as a threat to lose control or visibility over their hybrid network environments. By selecting the right form of automation for their current needs, enterprises can reduce human errors and improve their security agility now while they prepare for the future.