Secure business transformation

Davey Winder investigates how to best protect enterprise networks and data while embracing BYOD, cloud and virtualisation.

In the case of virtualised systems, businesses often erroneously think that security is somehow built-in, or that they are protected behind the physical computer's security. It is vital that virtual systems are considered in the same way as physical servers, when developing a business security policy.  Specifically, the server may be virtual, but the data is real and must be secured. This includes anti-malware protection, data encryption and proper network segmentation (i.e. to prevent a breach of one virtual network being used to compromise another) and application patching.

Security is a constant balancing act, especially when it comes to emerging technologies such as mobile and cloud that promise to unlock massive business potential. Each new wave of technology requires an enterprise to adapt its security posture, or risk being left behind.

"There are also specific issues related to virtualisation," according to David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab. "One of the benefits of a virtualised system is that a server can easily be created for a specific task. This may mean that the server may be down for a period, in which time automatic security updates that apply to physical computers aren't applied to virtual systems. On the one hand, this makes anti-malware protection to cover the resulting window of vulnerability' even more important.  However, the same problem applies to anti-malware protection, i.e. while the server has been dormant' it hasn't been updated."

There are also performance and management issues to consider. While traditional anti-malware protection can be applied to each virtual system, this comes with a performance overhead, as each installation will download its own updates. "When a new server is created, anti-malware protection will have to be applied and if it's overlooked, there will be a risk of infection. Therefore companies should consider using a solution that's specifically tailored for virtualised systems," Emm concludes.

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In conclusion

"Security is a constant balancing act, especially when it comes to emerging technologies such as mobile and cloud that promise to unlock massive business potential," says Martin Borrett, director at the IBM Institute of Advanced Security. "Each new wave of technology requires an enterprise to adapt its security posture, or risk being left behind."

Transformational technologies that provide greater operational efficiencies and lower IT deployment costs are brilliant for businesses, but a security strategy to avoid additional risk is an essential accompaniment. As we've seen, this strategy doesn't have to reinvent the wheel but rather just ensure that it's rolling smoothly.

"My general advice would be to address the basics first, before you spend money on tools. Get the system configurations right as a good configuration will provide a significant reduction in asset risk and give good ROI as it's repeatable," says Brian Chappell, BeyondTrust's director of engineering for EMEA and India. "Ensure that any tool purchased to address an element of your IT risk portfolio covers all the systems in your environment. You aren't going to find a tool that does everything (and if you do, it's probably a jack-of-all-trades, i.e. master of none), so make sure that each tool is the best of breed and covers as much of your IT estate as possible."

Finally, make sure you understand what you are trying to solve and ensure you have a good set of use-cases to test against. Remember, IT security isn't a point-in-time activity; it's an everyday activity (or every second activity).

Chappell warns: "We have seen the aftermath of enough IT security disasters to know that while it may seem expensive to spend money to avoid the risk of something happening, the cost of not spending that money can dwarf that spend."

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