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View from India: Automation, timing and speed, new dimensions of security

One of the spinoffs of the pandemic is the surge in digital services. The security landscape has transited to a new level, thanks to the speed at which digital transactions take place.

Around 95-99 per cent of operations are automated. “Customers need not visit ‘on site.’ Physical documents are on the decline. Matters related to insurance are being executed online through messaging and WhatsApp,” Ramesh Narayanaswamy, CTO of Aditya Birla Capital, said at the recent CSA India Virtual Summit.

Such digital processes have given an added dimension to data. The usage of data has become more important than before and the quantum generated has increased significantly. Data is being gleaned for anatomies. Seen from the marketing standpoint, campaigns will run in a manner such that it will help in customer segmentation. It will also reveal the gnawing gaps in the system that are prone to attacks. So it requires tools, training, systems and the right data to see where things have gone wrong.  

Algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) are no longer sufficient to address security-related issues. “For instance, transaction data, common to banking and the financial sector, comes from third party vendors. It needs to be scrutinised for anything suspicious. The same applies to people who bring their own ,devices and are outside the operations chain,” reasoned Narayanaswamy.

Customary practices such as a single password common to team members need to be eliminated as they are the weakest link in the chain.

Automation, timing and speed are the new dimensions of security. The tools have to be precise enough to combat any kind of pilferage. It needs to be figured out if innovative tools are required to secure processes as well as evaluate existing policies. Evaluation should go beyond policies to include data and testing methods. An assessment test of all operations that have happened over the last six months will shed light on loopholes (if any). The procedure should become habitual.

Security as a whole has undergone a transformation and this includes Internet Protocol (IP) security. Traditional IP-based security is not rich enough for threats that have increased due to the pandemic. The IP address (a configuration of many numbers) offers security, and comprises four layers of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) stack. Yet, there’s no user knowledge to validate the integrity of the device request. The user context remains unknown. To that effect, the IP address can receive messages from external hosts. The IP address allocated to users changes when users change locations.

Given this background, the IP address requires a new approach and that’s where ‘zero trust’ or rather ‘zero implicit trust’ comes in. “Through zero implicit trust, all the data sources and computing services are considered resources. All communication is secured regardless of network location,” explained Keith Prabhu, chair of the CSA Mumbai Chapter.

Other highlights follow. Access to individual enterprise resource is granted on per-connection basis, as there’s no implied trust. Access to resources is determined by a dynamic policy including client identity, application behaviour and environmental attributes. The enterprise ensures that all owned and associated systems are in the most secure state possible. There’s a continuous feedback into the system, which happens through risk intelligence.  All these tenets work in zero trust through authentication before access. What makes it secure is that the network connectivity and exposure is limited. It means that people are given access to just what’s required.

As per the authentication mechanisms of zero trust, intelligence feeds are provided for monitoring suspicious activities. “Software defined parameter (SDP) is one of the implementations of zero trust. Micro segmentation is another implementation followed by many organisations. SDP offers several advantages. It authenticates and then connects the user and system. This helps prevent attacks instead of detecting them as is the case now,” explained Prabhu.

The security benefits of SDP include a reduction in attack surfaces through pre-whetting and prior authentication measures. It protects critical assets and infrastructure. SDP has the ability to reduce the cost of ownership.

The business benefits of SDP translate into cost and labour savings. Agility of IT operations and compliance benefits are other highlights. Naturally, agility and automation will transform businesses. Like in most things, here too there are setbacks. SDP can become a single point of failure without key robust control mechanisms.

In a nutshell, all these digitally driven solutions have gained momentum over the last few months. To put things in perspective, pre-Covid, most remote work came under the business continuity plan (BCP). It functioned as a backup of professionals who sprung into action when natural disasters prevented the regular working staff from coming to the office. Cut to the present and remote work has become mainstream work and is here to stay. Remote work as we know is the work from home (WFH) option. And while at work, most services happen at the fingertips. Companies have extended the WFH option to next year, while organisations have facilitated online networking.

The discussion was organised by CSA India. CSA (Cloud Security Alliance) is a global not-for-profit organisation. “CSA has local chapters in India whose members include cyber security professionals. They provide outreach research, education and training. There are over 30 research working groups. CSA has a new circle, which is an online platform,” concluded Ekta Mishra, APAC membership director and country manager for India.

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