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Three strategies for the new era of enterprise cybersecurity

John N. Stewart, CSO of Cisco Systems, Inc | June 18, 2014
John N. Stewart of Cisco Systems lays out forward-thinking strategies for preventing and containing damage to enterprises.

The pace of change for Information Technology is challenging established notions of "What is IT?" and "What is Information Security in the modern age?" For one example, the "new" data center technologies such as virtualization, Software-Defined Networking (SDN), service-oriented delivery models, and cloud computing have radically changed the typical IT infrastructure from a defined set of assets owned and controlled by the organization to a constantly fluctuating roster of resources that can come and go from IT department visibility and control.

As this has occurred, we have witnessed the equivalent of a Cambrian Explosion of new Internet-connected life forms--mobile devices, tablets, sensors, actuators, home appliances, monitoring systems, content access devices, and wireless terminals. Applications running on these devices range from recreation to services critical to the functioning of our social and economic infrastructure. Put it all together, and we expect that world population of Internet-connected devices will grow from today's 10 billion to over 50 billion by the year 2020.

From a security point of view, these IT changes, including the expansion of Internet-connected devices, lead to a corresponding increase in attack surface. Instead of the mission of protecting a reasonably known and enclosed IT perimeter, we now must be ready to secure any connected device humans can make against any threat a hacker can innovate. Clearly, using established security practices, except on a larger scale, will not suffice.

Plainly said, we need to think differently about cybersecurity.

One classic strategy and two new ones
The aspects I just quickly described may sound overwhelming, but I remain optimistic, however, that methods exist to contain damage to assets, processes, and people that make use of information technology. Ironically, what is old is new again for some of this, and then there are just plain new ways to approach. Of the many to surface, I'd like to talk about three in particular.

Do the basics and do them well
This includes taking a diligent approach to software patching, user identity management, network management, and eliminating any dark space in your infrastructure. The main objectives in this endeavor include reducing attack surfaces available to adversaries and basing resource access policies on need-to-know/need-to-use principles. Even just getting better at patching can reduce available attack surface by 70 percent. Organizations that perform thorough asset inventories are often surprised by how many previously undocumented systems they discover connected to their network.

This do-the-basics strategy might sound commonplace, but it can be quite demanding when one takes into account the diversity and sheer numbers of devices and systems that today's IT operations must secure. A sophisticated identity management program that brings together the latest strong password, federated identity, privilege management and anomalous behavior detection technologies would not have been possible a few short years ago, but it can go far in improving the ability of security teams to prevent, see, and contain security incidents.


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