How safe is your network?

IT managers are putting their corporate networks at risk by failing to take adequate security measures in a climate where threat levels are rising. Piers Ford surveyed the region’s top network security specialists to find out what you should be doing to keep your network safe.

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By  Piers Ford Published  December 15, 2010

Corporate networks in the Middle East are sophisticated beasts these days, driven as much by the habits and expectations of their users as they are by the needs of the business and the advance of virtualisation technology, with its potential to liberate the organisation from the bind of a physical infrastructure.

This creates significant challenges on the security front for network managers. They need to provide users with flexible, reliable, real-time data and application access, regardless of location and from a diverse range of devices.

But they must guard those access routes with unified threat management (UTM) technology to keep out intruders and ensure the safety and integrity of the business’s most valuable asset: its data. And for that, they depend on vendors delivering network security products that can keep pace with the threats while delivering the all-important ROI — a combination that still comes at a premium according to some industry watchers.

“Unfortunately, the security industry has been slow to introduce true innovation to stop today’s class of modern malware threats,” says Ashar Aziz, founder of malware specialist FireEye.

“We’ve seen the exploits, like Stuxnet [the Windows worm discovered during the summer], that continue to be devastatingly effective. This is because the state of IT security has not been sufficiently advanced. We are seeing these patterns within our customer evaluations in which a multitude of serious malware infections are identified within days of installation, despite these organisations having firewalls, URL filters and antivirus on the desktop,” he adds.

On the positive side, according to Aziz, security investment is a rapidly-growing element of IT spend. Gartner, for example, estimates that Middle East companies will have spent 4.3% of their IT budgets on security this year.

The biggest challenge, says Mahesh Vaidya, CEO at data storage and security solutions provider ISIT Middle East, is for network managers to find ways to exploit the power of the internet with minimal risk and maximum reward.

“To achieve that objective, IT organisations must have the tools necessary to create and enforce effective security policies based on an understanding of how to ‘safely enable’ the applications that matter most for the business, and make those applications available specifically for the users who need them to perform their jobs,” says Vaidya.

“In some cases, that may also require the need to scan application traffic entering and leaving the network to block inbound threats and prevent outbound data leakage.”
Other trends shaping the market include legislative pressure and, of course, tighter cost control.

“The current economic downturn required that most IT and network managers continue to enable and support their enterprises with less CAPEX and OPEX expenditure,” says Bashar Bashaireh, regional director of network appliances vendor Fortinet Middle East.

“Consolidated and integrated multi-threat security solutions coupled with efficient manageability would continue to facilitate that, and make it possible for IT to cope with the dynamics of the business.”

Then there is the emerging requirement from most regulatory authorities for organisations to comply with their respective industry frameworks or standards.

“This necessitates that IT and network managers develop, deploy and manage the right security policies across various points within their enterprises, implement and maintain tighter database and applications security measures, such as proper data transmission encryption and data leakage prevention (DLP) solutions, along with the necessary tracking, monitoring, logging and audit reports required by these standards,” comments Bashaireh.

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