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Innovations in Trading and Technology

16 November 2012

How the Cloud Can Improve Network Security

IT departments can’t keep up with the constantly evolving security threats to their networks. A cloud-based approach to centrally managing the network can strengthen security while also improving efficiencies.

In the current economy, financial services companies are expected to do more with less, making them more vulnerable than they’ve ever been at a time when network attacks are becoming more sophisticated, persistent and frequent.  That’s why it’s surprising that many organizations are continuing to operate with an “all is well” mind-set rather than looking anew at their network security options -- such as a cloud-based approach to centrally managing the network.

Let’s face it: The frightening reality is that many banks and other financial services companies today simply don’t have the resources to protect their networks from external threats such as viruses, spyware and other sophisticated malware attacks. Nor are they effectively protecting their networks from internal misuse by employees (accidental or deliberate).

External breaches also are causing problems, as partners are being given access to networks in the interest of efficiency, but may not have adequate network security measures in place themselves.

All of these security problems can be compounded even more in a global distributed enterprise with locations in several countries. The end result? Often, it’s a security strategy that has more holes in it than a target at a shooting range. 

The brutal truth is that internal IT departments are discovering that they can’t keep up with the constantly evolving security threats to their networks. For instance, PriceWaterhouseCooper’s 2012 Global State of Information Security report found that one of the most dangerous cyber threats is an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attack. PWC reported that in a few short months in 2011, “National governments, nuclear laboratories, security firms, military contractors and an international organization that oversees the global financial system” had been targeted by APTs -- which the report calls “the most sophisticated, adaptive and persistent class of cyber threats.”

It’s not just government and defense organizations that are concerned with these attacks, however. The PWC report found that APT also is driving a significant amount of security spending in the consumer products, retail, financial services, entertainment, media and industrial sectors. And while it represents the most visible and dangerous threat at the moment, that’s just one type of security issue. While limited internal resources are focused against APTs, who is protecting the network from all the other security issues, such as viruses, phishing, inappropriate web content and more?

One of the biggest myths about IT security among financial executives is that there is a simple fix out there. Buy a device or an appliance, pull up the drawbridge, and all will be well. It would be nice if that were true, but it’s not. Just as armies need field commanders to stay on top of the ever-shifting battlefield (because battles never go as they’re plotted out on paper), enterprise security requires human beings skilled at making adjustments to react to the ever-changing threats and conditions.

The problem is, when you start to look at the sheer magnitude of the network security challenge, it quickly becomes overwhelming -- even for the best-staffed network security departments at companies with the deepest pockets. What many organizations are coming to realize is that they need a reliable, flexible and scalable approach to managing network security -- one that stops threats at the border rather than at the city gates.

Done correctly, managed network security through the cloud aggregates technologies from the leaders in IP infrastructure and security, and blends them into one simple, scalable system. It also eliminates single points of failure that too often occur in premise-based hardware solutions.

In addition, cloud-based managed network security provides network-based spam filtering that identifies and eliminates current and emerging spam formats. Since this filtering is now being done in the cloud, it reduces the load on mail servers, improving overall email performance and conserving bandwidth through more effective routing of inbound and outbound email.

Overall network performance is improved by scrubbing unwanted and potentially dangerous intrusions in the cloud instead of on-premise. And it results in low up-front and overall costs over the long term ... because just when your organization thinks that it has battened down the hatches, some new threat is sure to emerge that requires an upgrade or a costly update. 

With threat levels expanding exponentially and internal IT security resources dwindling, cloud-based managed network security can be your tactical advantage, giving you the technology (and resources to manage it) without compromising your budget. Because network security is a battle you can’t afford to lose.

James Whitemore is Executive Vice President of West IP Communications, a provider of cloud-based communications for enterprise-level companies (www.westipc.com). He can be reached at jwhitemore@westipc.com.

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