For many C-suite leaders, it is easy to get lost — and frustrated — in the barrage of emerging, acronym-heavy digital security products (especially when most of them now seem to start with SD-). But for all of the “software-defined” products and solutions flooding the market, when it comes to realizing the real business promise of digital connectivity, SD-branch is where the rubber really meets the road. The challenge it aims to address is intense, complicated and fundamental to global business success. Without careful implementation, though, organizations that are swayed by marketing claims find they are not investing in software-defined branches but entirely new levels of software-defined risk instead.
In a digitally driven world, companies must be able to connect their employees globally in ways that allow them to collaborate and deliver business results in real time. What good is it to invest in offices and teams around the world if they are not able to connect quickly, efficiently and securely?
As many CISOs and their increasingly worn-thin security teams are realizing, however, is that while connecting offices and workers has its challenges, it’s not really the hardest part. Far more challenging, and important, is the ability to connect those workers and resources securely. Organizations that ignore just how critical secure connectivity at the branch level is are doing so at their own peril.
It is easy to still think of branches as they traditionally existed — freestanding extensions of a business. But digitally, branches are more like actual tree branches than the traditionally siloed and physically disconnected branch offices of 50 years ago. This means they are not just connected in name, spirit, purpose or principles alone. Branches, like tree branches, do not float in midair next to the tree. They are attached to it. They are the tree. Branch offices, while remote, need to function as an integral extension of the core network. What organization do you know that exists in just one location?
In terms of security, this means there is no such thing as a vulnerable or less-secure branch, just a single network that is only as secure as its most vulnerable branch office — and many of those branches have become highly attractive and accessible points of compromise to cybercriminals. Add in mobile access and IoT, and a branch becomes not just one point of vulnerability but a cluster of hundreds, if not thousands, of potential points of compromise. Multiply that by every office branch, retail outlet or point of sale location in an organization, and the potential risk becomes extreme. The more efficiently that branches without security are connected, the more effectively they lead back to the main network’s most mission-critical data.
Without some security must-haves in place, branch offices become highly effective conduits of breaches and cybercrime — and, at the same time, highly ineffective conduits for actual work. In those circumstances, traditional SD-WAN only solves the connection problem. The internal LAN inside the branch is now highly vulnerable, as it is no longer protected by the organization’s centralized security services.
These remote offices also require an SD-branch solution that provides a next-generation firewall to secure for both wired and wireless connections, access controls to secure the branch network and the ability to see and monitor every device connected to the branch LAN. Unfortunately, many organizations only realize this after they have invested in a solution that doesn’t provide such security sufficiently or comprehensively. As a result, they start adding security from different vendors, and things can get complicated quickly.
In a real-world application, complexity in security doesn’t simply mean cumbersome. It also means unsafe. As it always does in matters of digital connection, starting with security eliminates challenges before they become too cumbersome and complicated to solve efficiently.
With a security-first approach to all SD-branch needs, CISOs can address the primary issues of agility, productivity and security in ways that reduce both complexity and cost — allowing branches to deliver the business results they were created to achieve — without placing the entire network at risk.
To achieve this, a continuum must be balanced between ease of access and proper levels of security. Even if an organization has the IT team members it needs in place, it can be extremely difficult to find a balance that works across an entire network of users — especially now, when IT resources have been refocused to address business continuity. Maintaining this balance is compounded when trying to manage network and security settings and configurations through a set of consoles that don’t communicate well with each other.
What’s needed is a solution that provides greater reach, flexibility and adaptability without compromising on protection. This starts by selecting solutions built around common standards and open APIs so they can connect through a single management platform. However, not only do things like network functionality, remote connectivity and security need to function as a single system — eliminating gaps that can be created when security is forced to play catch-up to changes — but security actually needs to drive that functionality. In this way, functionality can’t exceed security’s grasp, and critical resources are never openly exposed to risk.
Of course, this requires building solutions around a highly flexible, adaptive and open security platform. People don’t simply stop doing their jobs when security gets in the way. They use their own private devices to access mission-critical data, creating a shifting shadow IT that simply can’t be properly secured. Or they wade through the downtime and lack of access as best they can, and productivity suffers.
By blending security, network functionality, and SD-WAN connectivity into a single, holistic system, organizations are investing in greater reach and ability. This not only ensures that workers are able to achieve the kind of productivity organizations require to stay competitive, but it will also create a secure path forward as systems need to become increasingly interconnected and adopt new applications and services to solve the business issues just around the corner.