Padlock symbol for system showing network security automation
Going Beyond Zero Touch Network Security Automation to Gain Full Business Innovation by Jeff Styles, VP of Global Field Engineering at FireMon

Going Beyond Zero Touch Network Security Automation to Gain Full Business Innovation

In the age of rapid business transformation, organizations are continuing to digitize their operating models to improve efficiency and productivity. To manage their growing assets on-premise and in the cloud, they need to use automated network security management processes that can protect their systems from cyber threats, without slowing down business innovation and performance.

Unfortunately, multiple security challenges stand in the way of that objective. Digital technology continues to evolve, it’s growing at a rate that outpaces consumers ability to protect it. This issue is enhanced by two growing problems: the IT personnel shortage and human-introduced errors.

According to the FireMon 2019 State of the Firewall Report that surveyed nearly 600 information security professionals and C-level leaders, IT security resources are shrinking while change management requests are increasing. These smaller security teams are often overwhelmed with managing change requests and other critical security needs across their networks. In fact, the report found that 45% of respondents processed between 10 to 99 change requests each week. Of this same group, almost 60% used outdated manual processes for firewall change processes. At the same time, human error is proven to be the leading cause of data breaches. In 2018, IBM noted a 424% increase in data breaches due to cloud misconfigurations caused by human error. The problem is only getting worse, and Gartner believes that through 2023, 99% of all firewall breaches will be caused by human-introduced misconfigurations.

There is only one solution to ease the manual burden of network policy management from an already over-burdened and resource constrained workforce: automation. Now, I know automation is a buzzword that is often overused, and automated network policy management has already been around for twenty years. But, when done correctly and at the right level for the business, automation can completely transform an organization’s security infrastructure and ultimately reduce its cyber-attack surface.

Benefits of true security automation

I recognize that there is no shortage of headlines that highlight the need for automation in security operations, as automation has finally become a mature technology. However, automated network security policy management tools can and must go a step further. With the increased focus on incident response, the need for cloud visibility, and the growing impact of governance, risk and compliance on security operations, it is time for a change in approach.

While some organizations believe “zero-touch” automation is the answer, many network security policy management systems are still missing the mark. For example, the industry claims to be at the state of “zero-touch” automation, which automates the network security lifecycle by pushing policy and configuration changes to devices automatically, but they are stopping the process at implementation.

The biggest security problems can only be solved by reducing human touch, such as creating intent-based rules and golden standards to place guardrails and fast-track BAU changes throughout the system. Instead, most network security processes are still manual, which involve time, human contact and are a breeding ground for misconfigurations, and in turn cause compliance violations, unplanned outages and breach avenues.

To reduce manual security processes, create efficiencies and avoid human errors, automated network security policy management must go beyond “zero-touch” to provide continuous adaptive enforcement. This is one of the greatest business challenges: creating automated security policies that do not sacrifice innovation for security or force organizations to make security a post-innovation afterthought.

Going beyond “zero-touch” automation

The best type of automated network security policy management tools meet enterprises where they are to match their current needs and technical abilities, then help them grow to increasing levels of automaton over time. Enterprises can go beyond todays version of “zero touch” by doing more than pushing a rule change, automation shouldn’t end with implementation.

Tools that can provide continuous adaptive enforcement take us beyond implementation by continuously monitoring the underlining infrastructure for a change, transparently adapting and recalibrating global security and compliance policy around all underling networking, platform and infrastructure changes, and allowing the organization to stay focused on security controls.

Additionally, automated network security policy management tools need to be scalable for each organization. By being able to precisely define and implement rules with context, enterprises can effectively cover all automation needs regardless of use case, structure or security requirements.

Automating network security policy management does not create the perfect system unless it is done the right way. Policy management tools must operate with speed without sacrificing security and continuously maintain compliance to keep up with business growth. For this reason, visibility and risk assessments must also be automated to adapt to rapidly changing environments. Harnessing a unified security policy management system across all environments enables IT specialists to better use their time to assess impacts to system security.

Protecting operations while responding to rapid change

By going beyond today’s version of “zero-touch” automation, enterprises gain real-time visibility and adaptive control over their network security operations. As a result, automation helps reduce IT security costs and human error, maintain continuous compliance, and achieve security agility. This new efficiency ultimately advances business innovation and financial growth.

Most importantly, automation can help businesses stay on pace with competitors and not fall behind due to a preventable security setback or a devastating breach.

The answer to maintaining network security in a digital-first business world focused on incident response and innovation is not only automation, but also using reliable network security policy management tools that provide real-time control over the entire system to shrink the cyber-attack surface. By applying this security approach, you advance past “zero touch automation” and enable a new phase of secured business agility.