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Why IT needs smarter cloud security

Wed, 4th Aug 2021
FYI, this story is more than a year old

For IT and security professionals, the job is getting more complex day by day. With widely dispersed teams fast becoming the norm, new technologies emerging, and an ever-increasing level of threats, it's a big job and a lot to keep up to date with.

There is no doubt that IT needs smarter security. Security management needs to change to take hybrid work models into account as well as the new world of cloud services, BYOD and remote access. Comprehensive security solutions like security information and event management (SIEM) and cloud access security brokers (CASB) are already helping prepare businesses to cater for distributed or remote workforces.

User and entity behaviour analytics (UEBA) also plays an important role in detecting threats by using machine learning to identify when a particular user's activity is abnormal and flag it as a possible security breach.

But organisations are becoming increasingly reliant on cloud-based applications for employees who spend more time working remotely, putting greater pressure on their security management.

The CASB's task of monitoring all activity between cloud service users and cloud applications becomes even more critical when most of a company's employees are working remotely. As the central repository for a company's data sources across multiple environments, the effectiveness of the SIEM solution will be tested by the proliferation of access points from so many employees working from home.

With an increasingly distributed workforce, all of a company's existing security solutions face the challenge of dealing with a broader range of access points and potential threats. For example, the business may need to deploy a solution that takes data from a CASB and applies UEBA to determine whether the behaviour of a particular user needs to be flagged as suspicious.

With hybrid work here to stay, security needs to cater for a flexible workforce. It's important to implement robust policies and controls, but it's also necessary to adopt technology that can adapt quickly and self-learn.

If a company allows employees to work from many different locations, it needs to handle that without needing to manually update something in a context table or active directory.

People are no longer physically within the office or on the network, or behind the firewall on-premise. Many are using the SaaS applications they need to do their work, but they may also be using personal devices to access applications and services out of necessity. Accessing applications remotely with personal devices can have drastic consequences — so businesses should pay attention to how they're managing SaaS applications and web access.

As a result, it's crucial to implement a degree of web security, such as a secure web gateway, to ensure endpoints are safe from attack. This is urgent because people working from home are a very attractive target for hackers, and the level of attacks has risen hugely in recent months.

Another issue concerns functions on a managed computer, such as syncing files in the cloud with files on a laptop. Failing to put a policy in place to prevent that from happening automatically on unmanaged devices can be disastrous if large numbers of personal devices are syncing corporate data.

Many companies have no choice but to accept the reality of remote work because employees have embraced the better balance it provides between home and work. Security departments and IT teams need to adopt security tools to allow companies to meet the challenge of supporting remote work with SaaS applications while maintaining the same kind of security as they had on-premise.

Against the background of making the shift to cater for dispersed workplaces and make cloud applications and services more secure, companies are also faced with the inexorable reality of combatting a rising level of threats with the same number of security specialists.

Some estimates suggest there could be a shortfall of up to three to four million people available for IT security work. Despite sterling efforts to train more individuals, it is still a struggle to entice people to become security specialists.

This is helping to drive a move to automate more actions beyond the collection of data. While it is important to have a human in the loop, there is no reason why those in IT security roles should be engaged in low-level tasks. For example, should they be involved with phishing attacks, or is that best handled automatically by the security solution? For instance, if somebody clicks on a phishing email, it's easy to automatically block anybody else in the company from clicking on the link in the email.

If the security solution can automate protection against known threats or recognise others by their behaviours and enforce measures to stop them from taking effect, the company's security specialists can focus their efforts on new threats. If people are released from low-level tasks by smarter IT security, they can shift their attention to work that requires their judgment and expertise, such as attackers' techniques, tactics, and protocols.

Smarter security with more automation makes the work more interesting for people working in the security space. It releases them from tedious activities such as copying and pasting URLs in a threat intelligence service and checking if it's malicious.

Those draining and mundane tasks can be demoralising and cause burnout and churn. If IT security solutions can take more of the strain, it gives analysts a greater opportunity to make their jobs exciting and rewarding. The more rewarding and empowering the job is, the greater their motivation to flourish and for new recruits to enter the profession.

The smarter a company's IT and cloud security, the more intelligent and rewarding the work for its security analysts.

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