The new security demands of our hybrid working future

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For technology leaders around the world, one of the silver linings of the pandemic was that it acted as an accelerant for digital transformation. While the disruption was mercifully temporary, some of the coping mechanisms deployed by businesses to get through it are likely to persist as we emerge into a post-pandemic landscape. One of those mechanisms is hybrid working, which has now had the chance to prove its worth in the biggest remote working experiment in history.

About the author

Ian Porteous is Regional Director of Security Engineering for UK&I at Check Point Software.

According to the latest figures from Statista, more than two-thirds of business leaders are now planning to reconfigure their office space to accommodate hybrid working permanently, and 73% of employees say they want flexible, remote work options to stay as a condition of their employment. The imperative is there, and businesses are already making adjustments to their physical and digital infrastructure, but what about cybersecurity?

Network security in the new normal

The shift to remote networking over the course of the past 24 months has been nothing short of profound. Nonetheless, the rapid move to remote-enabled working has been driven by necessity rather than natural innovation within the market, and that means some businesses are not adequately prepared in terms of their security setup. Remote user access has become the new normal, offering greater agility and arguably better productivity, but that means legacy security solutions like static firewalls and basic VPNs (virtual private networks) are no longer fit for purpose.

Organizations are now “hyper distributed”, with applications everywhere and networks branching off in all directions. Some may have embraced SD-WAN (software-defined wide area networking) as a means of efficiently routing traffic and increasing the QoE (quality of experience) for users, but even SD-WAN on its own has security limitations that need to be separately addressed.

Given the sheer pace of change, it is understandable that businesses would prioritize productivity over network security in the short term, but that short-term fix is now blending into a long-term solution, and businesses need to re-evaluate their security as a result. Traditionally, a patchwork approach to security has led to a disparate array of siloed solutions, from email and browser security, right through to WAAP (web app and API protection), firewall-as-a-service, remote-access VPNs, and more. The challenge then going forward is to consolidate these multiple product points in a unified and cohesive security package, and that’s where SASE comes in.

The continued rise of SASE network security

Secure Access Service Edge (or SASE) has been quietly reframing how large organizations handle their security for years, but it is only since the mass shift to hybrid working that it has become relevant for nearly all businesses. What SASE does is converge security and network technologies into a single, cloud-delivered platform that is easy to scale and that facilitates rapid cloud transformation.

Geographical borders and physical spaces are becoming less relevant to today’s businesses, so it makes no sense for network security to be centralized in the traditional sense. With SASE, security is moved closer to the edge where applications, users and end-points are located, resulting in an agile, unified, low-latency solution that puts user experience, network performance and network security on an equal footing. The next step is for businesses to connect the security solutions that exist across users and devices in order to eliminate any potential security gaps.

Combining SASE with advanced threat prevention

Even when rolling out a SASE solution, businesses need to be mindful of their overall security posture. The more distributed its users, and the more devices that connect remotely, the greater the potential attack surface area for threat actors. Keeping this attack surface limited and protected is arguably one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today. Check Point’s 2022 Workforce Security Report refers to this as the “remote-access security gap”, in which 70% of organizations allow access to corporate applications from personal devices. According to the report, only 5% of businesses use all of the recommended remote access security settings when preparing to facilitate hybrid working.

What is more, these challenges are emerging at one of the worst possible times for businesses, with cyberattacks against corporate networks increasing dramatically. As well as thinking about centralized networks, businesses now have to consider things like endpoint resilience, their vulnerability to mobile-related attacks, remote working security policies, and even how well applications such as Office 365 or G-Suite are protected in real-time.

These new security demands have only amplified how important it is to have a unified SASE security solution that has a core focus on threat detection and prevention. By using real-time threat intelligence, you can ensure zero-trust access and protect devices as well as internet connections from even the most sophisticated cyber-attacks.

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Ian Porteous is Regional Director of Security Engineering for UK&I at Check Point Software.