SASE: A secure cloud-first solution for a hybrid working world

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Almost 18 months on from the initial murmurings of a new emerging deadly virus, remote and hybrid working models need little by way of introduction. 

The world has been swept off its feet and turned upside down by Covid-19 in the period that has ensued, leading many of us to a new normal of working from home. And this rearranged state of employment-related affairs is unlikely to change all that much moving forward.

A report from the BBC of fifty of the biggest UK employers said they have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the foreseeable future. Another survey revealed that 19 percent of workers would like to work from home five days a week in 2022. 

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Indeed, many superlatives have been used to describe the global embrace of more flexible, open working cultures. 

Various studies have shown the numerous benefits to both employer and employee alike, relating to everything from boosted productivity, enhanced loyalty and fewer sick days to reduced costs, reduced stress and a better work-life balance. 

A two-year study from Stanford University, for example, revealed remote employees to be 13 percent more productive than their in-office counterparts.

That said, it’s not all a case of bright skies and red roses. Amidst the mass switch to hybrid and remote working that we have all undergone, there have been many hurdles hidden among the positives.

For Chief Information Security Officers and those of a similar profession, it has been a period of immense challenge. Not only has the pandemic provided several opportunities to cybercriminals who continue to exacerbate an increasingly unfathomable threat environment, but the IT infrastructure that many companies’ operations rely on has had to change significantly.

Previously, the vast majority of information security protocols had been built on perimeter-based network security – a concept that assumes all internal entities within a network are trusted, while external parties are not. 

In a hybrid working world, however, these boundaries are shifting.

Where people now need access to workplace systems and software on a remote basis, be it from home or on the go, there is no longer a single, defensible line of separation between a company’s internal assets and the outside world. In essence, the network perimeter is fading away.

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Security and productivity – the remote working challenge 

Let’s rewind back to March 2020. Across the UK, US, and many other countries, companies were forced to adapt their internal systems and IT support almost overnight to continue operating effectively amidst enforced national lockdowns.

Naturally, companies were thrust into the unknown – how could such a drastic shift occur in such a short space of time?

At the time it was not understood if the pandemic would be short-lived or long-term. As a result, many explored the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) as a temporary bridge to maintain a centralized approach while supporting remote working. 

Indeed, VPNs will connect employees in disparate locations to a central network, but they do so in a highly inefficient manner. Central networks had not been built to support remote operations, and VPNs will regularly suffer from bottlenecked traffic that can seriously hamper user productivity, as well as exposing a series of vulnerabilities that may compromise security.

So, how should those companies looking to maintain flexible, hybrid or remote working models proceed in order to maximize security and productivity?

Enter Secure Access Service Edge (SASE).

A term coined by Gartner, it defines the simplification of networking and security, achieved by combining both elements within a cloud service that is provided to the source of a connection directly, not via an enterprise on-premises data center.

SASE is not a new technology in itself. Rather, it combines Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) capabilities with a variety of network security functions that are readily available on the market today, including Secure Web Gateway (SWG), Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB), Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS), and Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA).

The result is a much tighter convergence and integration of network connectivity and security functions, capable of securing work from anywhere at any time, without hampering worker productivity.

Unlike VPNs and other ‘square-peg-round-hole’ legacy solutions, SASE has been built on a cloud-first basis. And the various benefits are telling.

It can help organizations to better safeguard data by providing secure access while protecting against advanced threats; it allows employees to seamlessly use the applications they need; organizations can add users and see and monitor data in real-time from anywhere; it delivers consistent security policies to all devices, be it desktops, smartphones or tablets; and it can integrate all tools into a single architecture that is more easily manageable.

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Now is the time to consider SASE

Indeed, the digital landscape is now ahead of its time. 

According to a McKinsey & Company study, digital offerings have leapfrogged seven years of progress in a matter of months. And it seems that SASE has followed suit. 

While Gartner and other thought leaders had previously predicted that it would take a full decade to reach organic adoption of SASE, this expected timeframe has now shortened to somewhere between three and five years, as a result of the shift towards hybrid and remote working models.

Of course, there are challenges relating to its implementation. Any cloud platform supporting SASE needs to be intelligent, dynamic and scalable in order to deliver secure access to resources without any dependency on a user’s location, for example. 

Yet those that are able to position themselves as early adopters will be well placed to reap security, productivity and user-experience-related rewards for years to come, transforming their organizations into more competitive prospects.

The signs are optimistic to this end. According to the latest CyberEdge Cyberthreat Report, 74 percent of IT security decision-makers are currently adopting technology capable of supporting SASE architecture, laying the foundations for such prosperity in the future.

Those that fail to actively integrate SASE into their IT infrastructure in the coming years, however, could risk being left behind in a continued struggle comprising limited security for users and hampered productivity.

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Mike East, VP EMEA, Menlo Security

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