Hybrid theory

Trend Micro’s Nick Black explains why bringing the cloud into your security system will make it stronger – not weaker.

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Hybrid theory
By  Nick Black Published  August 25, 2010

The recession has done one of two things to information security teams, depending on who you talk to. Those of a pessimistic bent will suggest that budget cuts and redundancies have seriously impaired the ability of IT to protect the business, and left security teams ill-prepared to deal with the increasingly sophisticated threats they’re facing. Those in the majority, however, view the downturn as the perfect opportunity for security chiefs to renew their focus, cut out waste where necessary and look for ways to do more with less.

With this renewed emphasis on cutting costs and boosting efficiencies, it should come as no surprise that hybrid security has become one of the latest buzzwords to hit the information security market. Hybrid security usually refers to web or messaging security systems which leverage both cloud-based threat detection/prevention mechanisms and on-premise software or appliance based solutions. The appearance of this new model over the past year or so has really shaken up the e-mail security market and provided an interesting “third way” for enterprises which are typically caught between deciding whether to put all their eggs in an on-premise or a cloud basket.

So why is hybrid security so appealing to information security professionals in this post-recession world? Put simply, it’s about finding a way to achieve that holy grail of improving security and meeting compliance requirements while slashing overheads and other costs. Figures from major analyst houses all prove that this new deployment option is gaining rapid traction in the e-mail security market. IDC reported that 61 per cent of organisations feel a hybrid approach is most effective at stopping inbound email threats.

So let’s look closer at why hybrid e-mail security has proved the right fit for so many companies. One clear factor has to be the slow thawing of attitudes towards the cloud based security model. The continued decline of traditional on-premise software can be partly explained by the view among growing numbers of CISOs that outsourcing security need not incur greater risk. They rightly recognise that handing over certain aspects of their security function not only benefits the bottom line but can actually improve security and lower risk.

The reasons are well-rehearsed – hosted solutions involve handing over the running of the technology infrastructure to the security provider. This not only lowers the datacentre footprint and management overheads for the customer but also provides the opportunity to move these costs from capital expenditure to operating expenditure. Licensing a service in this way is a far more attractive prospect than being forced to provide cash upfront for hardware infrastructure. It also places the responsibility for increasing memory, storage and CPUs as required with the provider, removing yet another unwanted security admin headache.

From a more practical perspective too, tackling spam and malware in the cloud means threats are prevented before they even reach the network, lowering information security risk and also reducing the costs associated with clean up operations and archiving spam emails.

So why don’t more enterprises opt for a 100% cloud based messaging security model? In a word: compliance. Many European firms are understandably nervous about handing over control of their outbound security channels to a third party. Using a hosted data loss prevention solution will lead to sensitive data leaving the organisation in order to be scanned and categorised. This in many cases is a step too far and local control is preferred – an on-premise DLP solution which can scan e-mails and attachments to identify sensitive data and then take policy-based action such as encryption on that data.

However, not all hybrid e-mail security systems are created equal. While many enterprises have understood the intrinsic benefits of the model, it’s important to note some key factors that will influence the effectiveness of their deployments.

The first is the type of on-premise solution chosen. A hybrid messaging security model could involve a software based solution, a hardware appliance or a virtual security appliance. Again there is a clear trend in the market driven by demand for a flexible, lower cost option.

The virtual security appliance market will experience staggering compound annual growth rate of around 98%  between 2007-2013, according to IDC. The reason? They require no upfront expenditure on costly hardware and can be easily scaled to cope with increases in mail volume. Additional servers or other hardware can be added with ease and licensing is decided per number of users so costs will be fixed regardless of the inevitable growth in the number of messages being processed.

Second, it is important to find a vendor which can offer a truly unified service; both cloud and on-premise elements. While some may argue that a defense in depth approach – installing one vendor on-premise and another in the cloud – may help to cover all bases and offer greater threat protection, plenty of research shows the opposite.

It’s more likely that the more complex your existing environment is, the more mistakes that are being made and the more potential there is for a breach. Simplifying the security environment makes things easier to manage, easier to report on, and more secure all round as well as obviously reducing costs through consolidation.

It’s no surprise then, that so many firms are looking at a hybrid model to satisfy their various requirements, taking the best of the cloud while retaining an element of on-premise where necessary. But those that take the extra step and think about consolidating onto a single vendor which can offer superior threat protection with low false positives and a unified reporting system will be the clear winners in this rapidly emerging space.

Stats: IDC Messaging Security Survey 2009

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