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If opportunity makes a thief, what stops one?
Mon, 25th Jan 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Statesman and philosopher Francis Bacon said, “Opportunity makes a thief.” And never has there been more opportunity for cybercriminals to take what's not theirs than in today's digital economy.

Yes, digitisation and the ‘internet of everything' is transforming our world and creating new opportunities for businesses and consumers. But these new business models are also creating more opportunities for attackers as modern networks and their components constantly evolve and spawn new attack vectors.

While adversaries are executing more advanced and damaging attacks, defenders are responding in the classic way with new point solutions.

The problem with this piecemeal approach to security is that stopgap solutions create additional gaps in protection that attackers are using to their advantage. For security teams that are resource-constrained, managing all these tools is also becoming unwieldy.

As cyberattacks become more sophisticated, businesses need an equally sophisticated and intelligent way of protecting against malicious intrusions.

Unfortunately, many next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) focus on enabling applications and users and are not sufficiently protecting against threats. Many use traditional intrusion prevention systems that lack the ability to detect emerging attacks or evasive malware that can hide in plain sight. And most NGFWs today can't help once an infection does occur.

So how do you make sure you're selecting an NGFW that reduces opportunities for thieves across the full attack continuum – before, during, and after an attack?

When evaluating an NGFW you need to ask the following questions:

How can it help me protect against today's advanced attacks? You need actionable, multi-layered threat protection.

A threat-focused NGFW should include best-in-class security technologies that work together across the network and endpoints and are managed through a central console. These technologies, such as next-generation intrusion prevention, advanced malware protection, application visibility and control, and URL filtering, should be integrated to continuously correlate threat intelligence across security layers so you can identify and protect against sophisticated attacks early on.

Can it help me see what's happening on my network at all times? You can't protect what you can't see. To increase security effectiveness you need a holistic view and full contextual awareness across your environment, including visibility into users, operating systems, devices, communications between virtual machines, threats and vulnerabilities, applications and website access, and file transfers.

This level of insight allows you to discover new devices on your network, identify and address security gaps, and fine-tune policies to reduce the number of significant events requiring additional action.

When malware gets into the network can it help me accelerate detection and mitigate risk? The current industry standard time to detect a threat is between 100 to 200 days; that's far too long.

An NGFW should provide actionable indicators of compromise (IoCs) that correlate network and endpoint security intelligence. This will provide highly accurate visibility into suspect and malicious file and host behaviour.

This early warning helps organisations protect from emerging or unknown attacks, allowing quick action to avoid losses.

When attacks are successful, retrospective security scopes the full extent of the problem so you can quickly determine root cause and take action. Even files that were once unknown, or thought to be inert, can later be identified as malicious and quarantined to stop their spread and avoid further damage.

With my limited resources, can it help me save costs and reduce complexity? Integration and automation are essential. An NGFW that consolidates multiple layers of defences on a single platform and automates routine security tasks like impact assessment, policy tuning, and user identification will free up your team to focus on events that matter most. Automation can also help you react quickly to attacks and take action.

Can I take advantage of my existing security investments that are providing valuable data? You need to be able to share intelligence and better leverage existing security technologies to consolidate and streamline response.

Look for an NGFW that is open and integrates smoothly with an ecosystem of third-party security solutions like vulnerability management systems, network visualisation and SIEM systems, workflow remediation and ticketing systems, and network access control (NAC).

Not only does third-party solution integration reduce your IT burden and total cost of ownership (TCO), but it also strengthens multi-layered protection.

It's true that opportunity makes a thief. But with an NGFW that offers tightly-integrated, multi-layered threat protection you also have more opportunities to stop a thief – before, during, and after an attack.

By Marc Solomon, Cisco vice president of security marketing