The following is an excerpt from our 2016-2017 Global Application & Network Security Report, contributed by the Enterprise Security and Risk Management Team at Tech Mahindra.
As organizations continue to embrace the digital evolution, a growing number of assets are being connected to the Internet. In fact, most organizations are now using—if not relying on—cloud-based applications to power operations. With this shift, IT infrastructures have become more distributed. Applications are now accessible from anywhere and personal devices are being used to conduct business. Together, these realities have blurred the boundaries of the traditional network perimeter.
Attackers operate under a host of motivations—from hacktivism to monetary gain. No matter their intent, attackers benefit from the trend toward distributed IT, which increases the threat surface. Gone are the days when bolt-in and “afterthought” security architectures were sufficient. Static firewalls and intrusion detection or prevention solutions (IDS/IPS) woven around the asset simply cannot provide adequate protection. Such approaches work only in cases where they are fed with known protocol behaviors and known attacks. That’s because static firewalls and IDS/IPS solutions are not aware about the assets they protect. They are in the dark about network behavior—and are unable to protect against emerging attacks.
If those approaches don’t work, what does? Tech Mahindra sees a need to realign security architecture by focusing on ensuring application availability and preserving user experience while protecting applications from both volumetric DDoS attacks and exploitation of vulnerabilities. In designing such a strategy, there are two important prerequisites for success:
- Know your assets. That includes such components as web interfaces, mobile interfaces, databases, development and test cycles, operating systems, where applications are deployed, and by whom and from where the infrastructure is being accessed. Understanding these variables is an important requirement for reducing the attack surface within in the environment.
- Map your risks—and take steps to reduce them. Often attack activity goes unnoticed for a significantly long period of time. Thus, it’s crucial to understand attackers: how attacks have evolved over the time, which direct and indirect strategies an attacker might unleash against assets and, as much as possible, the hacker “mindset” to help in identifying attacks that may have gone undetected and thwarting future attacks.
With applications updated frequently, development and test cycles have shortened, and workloads have become very dynamic. In many organizations, time-to-market pressures, lack of resources and lack of awareness and focus on security converge to create security gaps in applications. As a result, it has become critically important that security be highly adaptable—with continuous adjustments to address fast-changing applications and ever-changing threats. With an adaptive security approach, an organization can establish an effective security architecture for mitigating threats—both known and unknown.
Tech Mahindra’s view on adaptive security
At Tech Mahindra, we see three key building blocks for adaptive security:
- Continuous proactive assessment. Adaptive security requires continuous assessment of an organization’s infrastructure and applications. Continuous assessment via manual and automated tools generates a security baseline that can be tracked and improved upon. With applications as key attack targets, the assessment must also evaluate the application development phase, thereby preventing vulnerabilities from creeping into the production environment. Recent attacks originated in IoT devices have illustrated the danger of device manufacturers failing to consider potential risks and vulnerabilities within their operating systems. Just as manufacturers are being held to higher standards, so should application developers. Incorporating security right from the start will help identify any vulnerabilities during the development stage so that sufficient controls, such as secure communication, authentication and authorization, can be integrated. In other words, when new code or a new application is deployed into production, it must pass through these security assessments.
- Situational awareness. Adaptive security must continually evolve at run time to address ever-changing application and user behaviors. Contextual information from continuous monitoring is a key input for an effective adaptive security strategy. With this approach, the security architecture is not entirely dependent on the traditional signature-based threat information but is instead based on real-time situational awareness. Continuously evolving security requires complete awareness of the assets – such as the core network, applications, endpoints – being protected and user behaviors related to those assets. If new code or a new application is deployed, the architecture detects the change and fine-tunes the policies vis-à-vis any new vulnerabilities. Volumetric DDoS attacks are a constant threat to online IT assets, with attackers typically merging malicious traffic with benign traffic (sometimes even using encrypted protocols). Thus, the ability to analyze traffic behavior and recognize user traffic patterns using various parameters, together with maximum detection accuracy, is key to dropping only malicious traffic and preventing any service degradation.
- Automation. When organizations deploy best-of-breed security solutions, these solutions almost always operate in silos. Automation in security can enable organizations to design a security architecture where security functions coordinate with each other, share information and respond dynamically to attacks. For example, adaptive defense mechanisms can use signaling or other forms of messaging between security controls; they can auto-learn new attack patterns; and they can accelerate time to mitigation through real-time creation of protection. Ultimately, automation is about prevention versus detection—and it empowers organizations to secure themselves at the speed of attacks. Automation in security can enable siloed security modules to work as a synchronized system—operating with minimal intervention and significantly improving both incident response time and resource consumption.
Just as dynamic business environments lead organizations to adapt, so does the threat landscape. With distributed, heterogeneous information architectures, application protection can no longer count on static models, but rather must include advanced mechanisms like real-time auto-learning and self-updating to provide seamless and continuous protection of an organization’s most critical digital assets.