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Why IT needs smarter cloud security in the age of the hybrid workplace

By Contributor, Wed 17 Nov 2021

Article by Bitglass, a Forcepoint company's founder and CTO Anurag Kahol.

For IT and security professionals, the job is becoming more complex day by day. With widely dispersed teams fast becoming the norm, new technologies emerging, and an ever-increasing level of threats, it's a demanding job that takes a lot to keep up. 
 
Without a doubt, IT needs smarter security. Security management needs to change to take hybrid work models into account, as well as the new world of cloud services, BYOD and remote access. 
 
Comprehensive security solutions such as security information and event management (SIEM) and cloud access security brokers (CASB) are already helping prepare businesses to cater to distributed or remote workforces. User and entity behaviour analytics (UEBA) also play an important role in detecting threats by using machine learning to identify when the activity of a particular user or entity is abnormal and flag it as a possible security breach.
 
However, with organisations becoming increasingly reliant on cloud-based applications and services for employees who spend more time working remotely, there is greater pressure on their security management.
 
The CASB's task of monitoring all activity between cloud service users and cloud applications, along with enforcing security policies, becomes even more critical when most of a company's employees are working remotely using cloud services.
 
As the central repository for a company's data sources across multiple environments, including SaaS applications in the cloud and others on-premise, the effectiveness of the SIEM solution will be tested by the proliferation of access points from so many employees working from home.
 
With an increasingly distributed workforce, all a company's existing security solutions face the challenge of dealing with a wider range of access points and potential threats. For example, the business may need to deploy a solution that takes data from a CASB and applies UEBA to determine whether the behaviour of a particular user needs to be flagged as suspicious.
 
 With hybrid work here to stay, the focus for security needs to be on catering for a much more fluid and flexible workforce. It's important to implement robust policies and controls, but it's also necessary to adopt technology that can adapt quickly and self-learn.
 
If a company allows employees to work from many different locations, it needs to be able to handle that without having to manually update something in a context table or active directory. 
 
Many employees are using SaaS applications they need to do their work, but they may also be using personal devices to access applications and services out of necessity.
 
Accessing applications remotely with personal devices can have drastic consequences, so businesses need to pay attention to how they're managing SaaS applications and web access.
 
As a result, it's important to implement a degree of web security, such as a secure web gateway, to ensure endpoints are safe from attack and reduce the risk of them being compromised. This is urgent because people working from home are a very attractive target for hackers, and the level of attacks has risen hugely in recent months.
 
Another issue concerns functions on a managed computer, such as syncing files in the cloud with files on a laptop. Failing to put a policy in place to prevent that from happening automatically on unmanaged devices can be disastrous if many personal devices are syncing corporate data.
 
Many companies have no choice but to accept the reality of remote work because employees have embraced the better balance it provides between home and work. Security departments and IT teams have to adopt security tools to allow companies to meet the challenge of supporting remote work with SaaS applications while maintaining the same kind of security as they had on-premise.
 
Against the background of making the shift to cater for dispersed workplaces and making cloud applications and services more secure, companies are also faced with the inexorable reality of trying to combat a rising level of threats with the same number of security specialists.
 
Some estimates suggest there could be a shortfall of up to three to four million people available for IT security work. Despite sterling efforts to train more individuals and market/make the role of a security operation centre analyst more attractive, it is still a struggle to entice people to become security specialists.
 
This is helping to drive a move towards automating more actions beyond the collection of data. While it is important to have a human in the loop, there is no reason why those in IT security roles should be engaged in low-level tasks.
 
For example, should they be involved with phishing attacks, or is that best handled automatically by the security solution? If somebody clicks on a phishing email, it's easy to automatically block anybody else in the company from clicking on the link in the email.
 
If the security solution can automate protection against known threats or recognise others by their behaviours and enforce measures to stop them from taking effect, the company's security specialists can focus their efforts on new threats. If people are released from low-level tasks by smarter IT security, they can shift their attention to work that requires their judgement and expertise, such as an attackers techniques, tactics and protocols.
 
Smarter security with more automation makes the work more interesting for people working in the security space. It releases them from tedious activities such as copying and pasting URLs in a threat intelligence service and checking if it's malicious or reviewing notifications for the phishing inbox day in and day out.
 
Those draining and mundane tasks can be demoralising and cause lots of burnout. If IT security solutions can take more of the strain, it gives analysts a greater opportunity to make their job more interesting and rewarding. The more rewarding and empowering the job is, the greater the motivation for them to flourish and for new recruits to enter the profession.
 
The smarter a company's IT and cloud security, the more intelligent and rewarding the work for its security analysts.

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