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Strong Endpoint Security Offers Firewall Alternative for SMBs and Branch Offices

Ahh, the firewall… that invaluable tool which monitors and protects traffic to and from an organization, as employees and servers communicate with the Internet and other networks or devices.

What would we do without them? Firewalls can block unauthorized access and inspect packets and prevent malware from infecting your network. A company might have an enterprise firewall at its headquarters office in Austin, TX, and another at its branch office 1,200 miles away in Charlotte, NC, and use these firewalls to enforce traffic and security policy across its network and access points. It might open a new office location in Chicago, IL, and equip that location with a third firewall and integrate it into the traffic and protection scheme. Or, conversely, the company might turn to a cloud firewall model to eliminate the amount of investment in physical security equipment and maintenance at its various sites. Either way, the company is taking prudent steps by incorporating firewall protection to help keep its electronic databases and other assets safe from infection, corruption, misuse, theft or ransom.

But what about a company that has only one office and 50 employees distributed across the country, most of whom travel extensively and are out of the firewall’s protective range? Do we expect them to log into the VPN when they work from their home offices or while visiting a client or attending a conference? Do we trust that they will log in? Does an enterprise-firewall-with-VPN strategy do much good here? And what if this small company doesn’t have the servers, routers and other equipment in its HQ office and instead leverages infrastructure in the cloud? Is a firewall appliance or cloud firewall really the most appropriate security solution for this type of organization?

Consider this: Firewall appliances at each office are there to protect the resident users, equipment (physical and virtual), and data. If your organization becomes so distributed as to have only a few people in the office and your server and database equipment in the cloud, the whole premise of the enterprise firewall loses its purpose. With intellectual property no longer on the premises to protect, it’s smart to consider a strategy in which network and security policy follow your employees wherever they are and wherever they go as they access private enterprise data from the cloud, and share data with one another.

Security at the Endpoint

Endpoint security is a strategy in which organizations or individuals attempt to stave off cyberattacks by fortifying remote equipment with on-device cybersecurity protection. Typically, this protection consists of antivirus software and scanning and complements a firewall. But when the firewall and VPN are eliminated from the equation, endpoint security must be stronger.

Cyber-attacks target individual users and their workstations via ransomware, Web browsers, document viewers, and multimedia players that download and execute content from the Internet in the hope of gaining a beachhead into the corporate environment. One wrong click or download by the end-user and the infection can spread laterally (east-west)… within the firewall… and across the internal network. No longer limited to big organizations and brands, SMBs are in the crosshairs of cyberattacks, with 43% of cyberattacks worldwide targeting small businesses.

Strong endpoint protection doesn’t replace all rationale for firewall use, but it can supplant traditional firewall and VPN strategies in certain scenarios.

  • In organizations in which many IT applications (e.g., Office 365 and Salesforce) and/or sensitive digital assets are no longer hosted in internal network datacenters. Often, traffic from remote workers is backhauled over the VPN to an enterprise control center, from which it is then routed back over another VPN connection to IT services in the cloud. This method of backhauling traffic is expensive, unreliable, and slow.
  • In organizations in which there are few or no company offices, and employees operate outside any firewall protection… Here, the workforce is largely distributed and transient, connecting to enterprise apps hosted in the cloud. In this scenario, endpoint protection needs to be more advanced and adaptive than static antivirus and firewall protection, and the flexing protection must be always-on.
  • In small organizations consisting of an owner and one or more 1099 employees, where workstations are limited to computers located in remote offices. Firewall and VPN protection for these companies may seem heavy-handed, while host-based antivirus and scanning may not be enough to enforce security concerns and Zero Trust best practices.

In these scenarios an organization wants to be able to protect its remote workers from cyberattacks, protect these users’ connections to Internet and cloud access points, and prevent the spread of malicious code or file-less malware. The firewall becomes obsolete in some environments, and the VPN impractical. Strong endpoint protection and network segmentation become a smart, effective defense.

OPAQ Endpoint Coverage

OPAQ Endpoint Protect provides easy-to-deploy advanced security-as-a-service for your distributed endpoint users. Organizations can employ it as a complement to the firewall or when firewall or VPN protection doesn’t make sense – for example, small offices of 25 to 50 users.

OPAQ secures remote workers and the private network from the latest threats. Security follows users wherever they go – whether they are in a coffee shop, inside an airport or on a plane or train. The protection goes beyond host-based antivirus signatures and scans and includes:

  • Network intrusion prevention and detection (IPS/IDS)
  • Network anti-virus/malware/spyware
  • External IP inspection and filtering
  • Network URL inspection and filtering
  • Zero-Day protection
  • Internet exposure minimization
  • Protection from both DNS- and Web-based assaults.

Meanwhile, OPAQ Endpoint Control governs your lateral traffic, providing secure access control and network segmentation. Using OPAQ Endpoint Control, organizations can place sensitive IT applications on the open Internet or in the cloud, while ensuring that only authorized users can access those applications. It can also be used to lock down internal networks, closing off unnecessary avenues for lateral movement by attackers who have compromised devices behind the corporate firewall.

Benefits:

Firewall displacement: Is a physical firewall at every office a waste? Are your remote users not logging into the VPN? OPAQ offers always-on advanced protection that doesn’t require your staff to invest and maintain the equipment.

Tightened endpoint security. Endpoint Protect ensures that every Internet connection initiated by the endpoint goes through OPAQ’s security cloud. This model provides affordable cloud-delivered enterprise-grade security for organizations that previously couldn’t afford or manage advanced security.

Stopping stowaways. The best approach to distributed security is to segment internal networks using software to contain the spread of attacks. OPAQ Endpoint Control is a network segmentation solution that gives you the visibility to see suspicious activity, quickly search for malicious network processes across your user base, and stop all network communication from infected endpoints.

Backhaul offload. Many organizations today are stuck backhauling full tunnel VPN traffic from remote workers to their enterprise. IT applications are increasingly hosted in private clouds, which are reached over endless VPN connections. Using OPAQ Control, organizations can break free from this inefficiency, moving to a model where trust is anchored in the user and the device, rather than the network they are on.

Security cannot be a static defense. To protect remote workers harnessing the cloud, leave the firewall behind and leverage strong, smart endpoint protection that is always on and evolving ahead of the latest threat.

Learn more about OPAQ EndPoint Protect

Read about Securing Remote Workers

Why Wireless Security Protocols Won’t Protect Your Roaming Remote Workers

Whether it’s in a coffee shop, airport or crowded mall, wireless networks present a range of security risks not inherent in wired networks. Wireless access points (WAPs) and wireless routers broadcast data over the air in every direction. In hotspot environments where this traffic is unencrypted, any eavesdropping device within a limited range can easily pick off the signals and steal information.

The threat, while diminished, isn’t eliminated when WEP, WPA or WPA2 wireless encryption standards are employed to protect the data. WEP encryption can be cracked in minutes, and hackers have also compromised modern routers utilizing WPA and WPA2. Organizations can patch the vulnerabilities in their WPA and WPA2 protection, but the threat doesn’t end there.

Using readily available wireless sniffing devices such as the popular WiFi Pineapple, determined hackers can spoof the WiFi network as part of a man-in-the-middle attack to steal user credentials, insert malware, and compromise machines, whether the user is still in the café or has returned home or to a nearby office.

Outside the enterprise firewall, VPNs help with these mobile worker scenarios, but remote endpoint security relies heavily on the human element: What people do, what they don’t do. Even the best employee will temporarily disconnect from the corporate VPN to access the Internet directly, exacerbating the risk of infection from spyware, malicious sites or embedded files. Users go into coffee shops and airports and board trains and then bang away on their keyboards and do work. They make sustenance purchases. With the right level of caffeination, they can be rather productive in their contributions of digital and perhaps even audio- or video-delivered work. They’re focused on the job at hand, and they don’t want to be hassled by too many security steps in order to maintain a productive pace. You know the drill: Log into the VPN, complete two-factor authentication, and then, due to any extended human pause such as deep thought or bathroom break, you have to do it all over again just to resume your work.

In addition, wireless data encryption and VPNs, even when used, can’t stop shoulder surfing, and unattended machines are a big no-no since thumb-drive malware insertions can successfully be executed in seconds.

According to IDC research, more than 70% of breaches start at the endpoint. From there, a hacked employee, or a hacker or malware piloting the compromised device, might then use a “secure” tunnel to access your organization’s active directory, or a customer communication tool. Here, the compromised endpoint can lead to widescale network infection including the loss of data, network control, reputation and business.

Distributed Network Security Requires Endpoint Visibility

Do you know all the assets connecting to your network? The pathways they’re taking, the payload or suspicious behavioral tics or storms they’re carrying? Can you recognize immediately who is trying to connect to your network, using which app, on which device, and quickly authenticate identity, monitor and control for appropriate network usage?

Traditionally, on-device endpoint protection is managed sporadically and inconsistently, which is not an effective way to maintain a shrewd Zero Trust approach across your network. Ransomware, bots and malware have a way of morphing to get past static, outdated antivirus protection at the endpoints. In the majority of cases, especially when involving BYOD, the hardware drive isn’t encrypted and the VPN isn’t used. Exposure to ransomware threats increase outside the private network – for example, a largely unprotected mobile employee opening email or entering data into your network from a crowded restaurant or a public hotel. Intrusions such as spyware, password theft, and open-port assaults can all result from a malicious presence lurking, listening and entering from a nearby or remote location.

Do you really want an employee plugging his laptop into a public charging station at an airport and then reconnecting directly to your live conference, private network or datacenter without first orchestrating detection and authentication? Do you want to leave network pathways open so new worms, viruses, malware and other hacker schemes can spread? Firewall and VPN defenses are vulnerable to this lateral exploitation. Workers, whether mobile or in the office, as well as certain types of computing architectures, can inadvertently leave open windows for malware and file-less malware schemes such as social engineering ploys to spread deeper into the network. As if that’s not enough, denial-of-service (DoS) attacks are increasingly targeting prone remote users for an easy entry point (sometimes via another protocol known as Remote Desktop Protocol, or RDP) and they can then flood your network.

Advanced Always-On Endpoint Protection

You can’t rely on wireless security protocols, disciplined VPN use, and static antivirus protection to secure your remote workers as they run the gauntlet of cybersecurity threats outside your firewall. Your endpoint protection must be always-on, even when your people aren’t.

Through efficiencies in the cloud, OPAQ enables organizations of all sizes to bolster and continuously refresh remote security with:

  • Always-on end-user protection and advanced malware detection and prevention.
  • Strong authentication, including multi-factor and/or directory-based.
  • Encrypted communication over SSL or VPN, as well as on-device hard-drive encryption.
  • Suspicious activity alerts about what a company device has connected to.
  • Smart processes and safeguards before the device connects to your organization’s private networks, including a sensible screensaver timeout policy.
  • Microsegmentation, which provides additional layers of security against the spread of malware or unauthorized network control. Microsegmentation works by isolating workloads from one another and creating secure network zones that prevent infected hosts from connecting to each other or to the core network. It produces separate secure tunnels for users who are roaming and those who have been authenticated for more private network and data access. In the past, the cost and effort of network segmentation versus the risk of lateral infection was too much for many organizations to bear, but the cloud has enabled organizations to implement such advanced security controls more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Reinforce your security at the endpoints and reduce your attack surface with just a push. Apply smart, on-device security-as-a-service at the endpoint without compromising user experience or performance.

Learn more
Read the OPAQ Securing Remote Workers report.

Why Endpoint Security Is Crucial in Our ‘WAN Without Boundaries’ World

Networking: It’s not just about the physical communication structure you have to maintain. Networking is a way to grow your business, your brand, your market potential.

Leveraging the open Internet and social apps in the cloud can be more cost-effective than travel, face to face, and complete reliance on communication and collaboration over expensive private networks. However, employees are not always within the secure enterprise firewall/private WAN as they perform the functions of their jobs. Think electronic payment systems, for example, or public hot spots where the employee doesn’t first connect to your VPN. This venturing outside the perimeter leaves them – and potentially your entire company – exposed to hostile elements. Bad actors, someone or something that tries to deceive, steal or destroy, are lurking out there and trying to break in through the same Internet we’re using.

Your customers’ privacy, data, and finances are at risk, too. Data hosters and managed service providers are targeted regularly. When cracked, they lose their customers’ information and trust. The pilfered private information can be sold on the Dark Web, which is an anonymous realm where more than half of the web domains practice illicit activities.

A stateful firewall, one that inspects network traffic and packets, is not enough. Hackers, cybercriminals and AIs can successfully attack through deeply embedded, well concealed, or file-less schemes. In addition, firewalls are not good at stopping infections once a breach has occurred. You have to also be able to inspect credentials and network behavior so intruders are not able to cover their tracks, control your systems, and ruin your business and reputation.

Unfortunate Security Scenarios for Your Distributed Network and Workforce

So, realizing the threat, do you send teams out to all your branch offices for equipment reconfiguration? Maybe … But what do you do the next time, when the hackers start to exploit vulnerabilities in your soon-to-be legacy protection system? A lot can go wrong during this catch-up period.

  • Hackers, targeting easy prey, get in due to delays in applying a patch for remote access protocol. They borrow administrator privileges and create new phony accounts. It’s a deep hack. Your data, your customers’ data, has become theirs.
  • An employee in a small remote office, prone to email-driven social engineering ploys, gets infected. Any peer to peer communications from the employee’s machine can spread malware or misleading information to other users and systems.
  • Joe plugs his phone into a public charging station … or maybe he’s using a wireless network at a subway coffee shop where a sneaky neighboring device is monitoring traffic on the shared network. Oops. He forgot to log into the encrypted VPN before enjoying his espresso drink and clicking a digital link. Joe’s phone (the endpoint) thereafter starts acting suspiciously inside your own network, whether you can see this happening or not.
  • Poor Joe. In another scenario, he’s at an all-week conference and in the habit of leaving his laptop open and “on” in the hotel room when he’s not there. His system’s apps are still on, and the room’s visitor doesn’t even have to know Joe’s screensaver password. Just a little plug-in and the unauthorized person can fool your network into believing phony instructions from the endpoint are authentic.

Do you want to wait for the next truck roll to bolt on security against these very possible scenarios?

Why Remote Security Is Vital for Your Growth Strategy

Endpoint security is not just about token antivirus protection on mobile devices and a reliance on the user to log into your VPN. It’s about always-on protection wherever your employees go to do business, hence helping your organization to win in the aforementioned scenarios. You have to be able to inventory and secure all corporate-issued mobile computers and bring your own devices (BYODs) to ensure network performance and security. Doing this only at the network equipment level makes for a porous net in fighting crime at a wider network level. Instead, counterattack at the device level (phones, laptops, tablets), for these are the touchpoints roaming into the sometimes-hostile outside world.

Read the OPAQ report that stresses the criticality to:

  • Centralize team security by automatically inventorying remote and mobile endpoints inside a security-conscious dashboard.
  • Apply next-generation endpoint protection including strong authentication, encrypted communication, anti-virus management, anti-spyware, advanced malware filtering and protection, and microsegmentation.
  • Protect users with an always-on VPN that secures them while on the public Internet as well as while accessing private enterprise data, with separate clean corridors for each.

Read the Securing Remote Workers report.

 

Network Modernization and SD-WAN: How to Deepen Security as Your Network Goes Wider

So you want to modernize your organization to capitalize on all the leading-edge advantages of the digital era, big data, cloud efficiencies, AI, leading business apps, and partner and customer relationship opportunities? Achieving this business IT transformation requires a strong dose of change management including a willingness to transition on-premises servers to the cloud and switching from Web browser-only services to mobile-friendly apps and sites that facilitate new and more distributed connections. However, these promising modern system architectures won’t pay off without high-performance, highly scalable yet affordable networks to support them. Hence, a move to modernize networks and utilize the cloud is under way.

Why is the cloud so important in network modernization and wide area network (WAN) optimization? The biggest advantage is it enables organizations to leverage what’s already out there (namely, flexible networks, high-value application infrastructures, multitenant shared services, and outsourcing opportunities) so you don’t have to build or invest in the WAN infrastructure yourself.

But the underlying technologies in today’s network infrastructure consist of a hodgepodge of components such as traditional IP routers, multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), and software-defined networking, all of which offer differing ways of transporting data, creating a massive amount of complexity for organizations and managed service providers alike.

MPLS is a network technique that directs data from one node to the next based on the quickest path instead of relying on referencing IP routing tables. But when it comes to security and traffic orchestration in the cloud, MPLS is not fast, flexible or straightforward, requiring branch office-to-Internet service requests to pass through a core network before being delivered. This creates additional traffic over expensive MPLS lines, a utilization that doesn’t take advantage of the whole agile and ubiquitous nature of today’s cloud-centric business model.

A different networking approach drawing attention is software defined wide-area network (SD-WAN). SD-WAN is a transport-agnostic overlay that can route any type of traffic (LTE, 3G and broadband, as well as traffic over private MPLS circuits). The SD-WAN approach provides a network management and control layer to orchestrate ‘backhaul offload’ and WAN optimization. It should figure in enterprise considerations when trying to achieve faster deployment timetables for branch enablement and realizing cloud benefits such as availability and cost. But, as SD-WAN starts to complement today’s private MPLS networks and traditional IP routing, organizations should also consider a number of security questions.


Don’t Forget to Modernize Security as You Modernize Your Network Strategy

Just as there are compelling reasons to modernize your system architecture, business computing methods and networks, there are also compelling reasons for modernizing network security.

As you shift from backhauling all or most of your traffic through the core network in favor of more direct branch to cloud pathways, you are potentially losing some elements of centralized network and security policy.

SD-WAN – as a central enterprise WAN-traffic controller from which to easily apply policies across all devices – is not a security technology, per se. It allows you to avoid the cost of backhauling traffic through the core network, but with that comes the challenge of implementing enterprise-grade security policy across a distributed network.

So what do you do? Do you trade off some security at the branches by plugging in an SD-WAN device that offers only basic protection? Or do you pay for truck rolls (i.e., technicians to install and configure edge devices at every office) and then bear with lengthy deployment cycles? Do you team up with a managed security provider?

This is where the notion of security as a service (SECaaS) and network service insertion from the cloud can come in handy. With a single network and security cloud, you or your managed service provider can simply throw the switch to deploy smart centralized network policy and security at the branch level, extended VPNs, and mobile outliers. This cloud-based security approach, while reducing vulnerabilities at the branches and among mobile/remote users, can also reduce deployment times by up to 91 percent.


Five Key Security Considerations for SD-WAN and Hybrid Cloud Networks

A new white paper from OPAQ discusses five security imperatives companies should keep in mind as they modernize their network infrastructure. A few of these important considerations are to:

  • Modernize security as you modernize your network. SD-WAN is a modern transport system, but isn’t necessarily an advanced security system. Protect your digital assets and your information with security solutions such as next-generation firewalls and leading-edge endpoint protection.
  • Secure your branches as you enable them. As you fortify distributed users with direct access to Internet information and apps, the implementation of advanced security doesn’t have to create long delays and siphon from productivity.
  • Ensure that backhaul offload doesn’t open Pandora’s Box. Mitigate the risks of infection, costly viral lateralization attacks, and the compromising of sensitive data by passing any direct branch office-to-cloud traffic through an agile and virtual firewall and fully encrypted network. Easily segment your network to limit the spread of a cyberattack.

As you modernize your networks, make sure you protect your data, users and business reputation with a fully integrated solution that incorporates an encrypted software-defined network, next-generation firewall and endpoint protection capabilities that can be applied in a matter of minutes, long before that next truck roll.

Watch the Webinar.

Read the white paper.

 

 

Avoiding the Security Pitfalls of SD-WAN and Network Modernization

Network modernization, like any wave of innovation, is multifaceted in its good intentions. It’s about rearchitecting your network so it is better able to handle increasing traffic and high-bandwidth-consuming apps such as video, ensure availability and quality of experience, flex for the delivery of new revenue-generating service offerings, and reduce network and application maintenance and overall costs.

The much ballyhooed yet still somewhat enigmatic cloud, with its highly virtualized and outsourced infrastructure, has already delivered some of this modernization by enabling organizations to offload some traffic from today’s predominantly hair-pinned and expensive MPLS-based WANs in favor of direct user access to Internet services. The cloud ecosystem offers other network modernization enablers such as shared service economies of scale, ready-to-leverage network capabilities such as automation, and transport independence (i.e., the ability to use broadband, LTE, Carrier Ethernet and MPLS “lines”).

Software-defined WANs (SD-WANs) could occupy a complementary network management and orchestration role to relieve some of the cost of (and dependence on) today’s rigid and expensive private networks. However, the path to network modernization is not all neatly wrapped and tied in pink ribbons, and uncertainty exists from a security perspective as well. Every time a user, whether stationed at one of your branch offices or remote, accesses the Internet directly he or she is potentially opening Pandora’s Box or letting sensitive data out. MPLS schemes require this sort of risky traffic to first pass through the core network for networking protocol and security application, which is a good thing, but at what cost? Traffic over MPLS lines can be dozens of times the Mbps/month cost versus broadband and the public Internet, so you want to orchestrate traffic in a way that reserves private lines for high-priority traffic and utilizes the public Internet for lower-priority interactions. Although SD-WAN may be ideal for this role and faster enablement of branch office and mobile workers through software-as-a-service, it is not an advanced security solution.

 

Advanced Security for SD-WAN and Cloud Networks

SD-WAN, which can empower organizations to exercise centralized SaaS control over traffic to and from the cloud and the WAN as a whole, poses some vulnerability issues. Centralized security is more difficult to administer when traffic isn’t backhauled to the data center or network hub, and malicious code and hacker schemes can more easily pass through to your distributed users undetected (north-south traffic).

What’s more, without the intervention of advanced security mechanisms, infections can more easily spread laterally – from user to user, system to system, and office to office (east-west traffic).

If you’re going to capitalize on the potential efficiencies of the cloud and SD-WAN controllers, you must first secure the egressing of traffic directly between the Internet and remote sites as well as protect against lateralization attacks. This can be accomplished through an advanced security solution designed for the cloud, which includes fully integrated next-generation firewall and endpoint protection as-a-service.

 

Secure Network Modernization Webinar

These and other topics will be explored during a webinar titled, “Avoiding the Security Pitfalls of SD-WAN and Network Modernization,” moderated by Security Now, and presented by Rik Turner, Principal Analyst, Ovum, and Ken Ammon, Chief Strategy Officer, OPAQ.

By attending this webcast, you will:

  • Understand the top security vulnerabilities plaguing companies as they modernize their networks
  • Learn how critical security vulnerabilities can be easily addressed with security-as-a-service
  • Discover how cloud and automation are enabling companies to simplify their ability to modernize their networks and security

Register for the webinar.

Download the white paper.

What is a Next-Gen Host-Based Firewall and why would anybody care?

Host-Based Firewalls are a simple technology that is generally used to prevent unwanted inbound traffic by port number. They don’t play a significant role in most enterprise security programs because its too much work to manage policies for each individual host. Instead, organizations prefer to enforce policies with network firewall devices that can protect large numbers of hosts from a single location.

New technologies have recently started to change this by providing a way to manage large numbers of individual endpoint firewall policies from a central system. We call these solutions Next-Generation Host-Based Firewalls, although the term Micro-Segmentation is also sometimes applied to this space. There are two primary trends that are driving this change:

Cloud Adoption: Workload mobility combined with the absence of traditional network architecture in cloud environments has meant that in some cases, firewall policies have to be managed on an individual endpoint basis, and there need to be tools that facilitate this.

Sophisticated Targeted Attacks: These days the initial point of infection for an attacker within a network is just a foothold that is used to spread internally in search of vital information to steal or encrypt with ransomware. This fact has driven organizations to pursue a Zero Trust approach to network security, where hosts inside the perimeter are not considered inherently more trustworthy than hosts outside the perimeter. The ultimate Zero Trust model means that every host is capable of defending itself, and tools are needed to orchestrate that defense.

As various Next-Generation Host-Based Firewall solutions have come on the market, the market has begun to define itself around a few key features or characteristics that all of these products share:

Central Policy Management: Obviously a “table stakes” requirement for these solutions is the ability to create a policy for a large number of individual endpoints from a central policy management tool. These policies are managed in one place, but enforced in many places — by each individual endpoint system.

Network Visualization:Crafting a security policy for large numbers of endpoints can be challenging. Next-Generation Host-Based Firewalls typically collect logs of network traffic from each endpoint and can provide the user with the ability to see and explore their network and it’s interrelationships. This can be a powerful tool for investigating security incidents as well as building policies that can contain them.

Abstract Policy Making: Traditional Firewalls enforce policy based on IPs, ports, and protocols. This can be inadequate for dealing with the complex set of interactions that occur on an internal network where workloads and workstations can move around. Typically, Next-Generation Host-Based Firewalls allow policies to be defined based on the identity of a user or of a workload or application, regardless of what system, IP or port is involved. This makes policy definition much simpler by allowing the user to express rules in human terms.

In our view there are three main architectural approaches to building Next-Generation Host-Based Firewalls. In describing these architectures, we use the words “active” and “passive” to refer to the role that the central policy management system takes in making case-by-case enforcement decisions.

Passive: A Passive Next-Generation Host-Based Firewall system is capable of pushing traditional, static firewall policies out to endpoints, but the central policy management system takes no direct role in policy enforcement. When new connections are made or received by each endpoint, the endpoint evaluates them against the policy it has been given and chooses whether to allow or block them.

This architecture has the advantage of imposing minimal latency at connection establishment and being resilient against temporary loss of connectivity between endpoints and the central policy manager.

Active: Instead of pushing static policies out to endpoints, an Active Next-Generation Host-Based Firewall makes enforcement decisions at a central controller. When each new connection is made or received by each endpoint, the endpoint contacts the controller and the controller decides whether or not the endpoint should allow or block, on a case-by-case basis. In this sense the controller is playing an active role in making enforcement decisions.

This architecture has the advantage of being able to adapt policy enforcement decisions immediately to changing circumstances on the network, such as when a host moves to a different network segment, or when a decision has been made to quarantine a compromised host. This adaptability is necessary to enable micro-segmentation in traditional office environments where rapid changes are commonplace. While there is some cost associated with this architecture, the latency and availability impacts are comparable to those imposed by the use of DNS servers.

Hybrid: A hybrid solution combines the best of both architectural approaches, allowing for dynamic policies to be enforced in real time by a central controller, with static backups in place that can make rapid decisions when the controller cannot be reached.

The OPAQ Cloud delivers Active & Hybrid Next-Generation Host-Based Firewalls. We believe that these technologies play a key role in securing the hybrid networks of today, especially as workloads move to the cloud and networks de-perimeterize. They enable enterprises to pursue a true Zero Trust approach to network security — where hosts on the internal network are not inherently trusted. The Zero Trust model is a prerequisite for defense against sophisticated threat actors, and a step toward totally new kinds of enterprise network architectures where perimeter defenses are no longer required.

Drawing a New Map of Enterprise Networking

Earlier this year I got to hear Tim O’Reilly speak at Grand Central Tech as part of their Authors @ GCT lecture series. Mr. O’Reilly is out promoting his new book, “WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up To Us.” One of themes of his book is the process of innovation – how we go about creating technologies that completely change the way that we think, work, and live.

O’Reilly writes about drawing visual maps of the different elements within a company’s business plan, in order to understand how they interrelate with each other, a process that he learned about from a strategic consulting firm called BEAM. He then proceeds to draw such a map for an on-demand transportation company like Uber or Lyft.

There was a particular way that on-demand transportation worked a decade ago – you called a cab company, and a dispatcher announced your location on a radio network, and hopefully one of the cab drivers agreed to pick you up. Over time a particular set of technologies have become available, including the Internet, smart phones, and dispatching algorithms, that have enabled a completely different way of organizing this process. However, the new map for on-demand transportation didn’t draw itself – it was the job of innovators to realize that an opportunity existed to connect each of these ingredients in a new way, and to persuade the public that this new way is, in fact, a better way.

Of course, this got me thinking about what we’re doing at OPAQ Networks. IT organizations have been building enterprise networks in the same way ever since we started connecting businesses to the Internet in the early 1990’s. I usually credit Steven Bellovin and William Cheswick for drawing the original maps of this territory in their book “Firewalls and Internet Security.” This model is often called the “perimeter security model” – “We’ve got a bunch of sensitive computer systems here in our corporate headquarters, so we connected all of our satellite offices into that headquarters and we’ve built a stack of security solutions there to protect everything.”

Over time that model has started to show signs of strain. The sensitive systems that used to collect at headquarters are gone – they’ve moved into the cloud. However, the security stack is still there, and all kinds of traffic is still getting backhauled through headquarters for the sole purpose of sending it through the stack. Despite this approach, attackers are successfully getting inside by infecting end user workstations. Once their malware is running on the other side of the firewall, they have free range over the internal network and can get right to the data they want to steal.

At OPAQ Networks we are building a new map for this territory. First, we’re moving the security stack into the cloud, where the sensitive assets now live. This solves the backhaul problem, because satellite offices and remote VPN users can connect to cloud assets through our network instead of backhauling through a corporate headquarters. OPAQ has a nationwide network of points of presence and more than 200 peering relationships with major service providers that enable us to get traffic to it’s destination as efficiently and reliably as possible. Most small and medium sized enterprises don’t have the means to build this kind of infrastructure for themselves.

Second, we’re introducing software-defined network segmentation, a completely new technology that provides enterprises with unparalleled visibility and control over their internal networks. Using this tool, it’s possible to granularly segment internal networks so that end users only have access to the resources that they need, without having to reconfigure VLANs or wrestle with NAC solutions. Our partners’ midsize customers are able to adopt a better security posture, so that a single endpoint compromise does not imperil their entire business.

We are entering a time when the traditional way of building enterprise networks is being disrupted, and other maps are being drawn. Google’s BeyondCorp is one such map, along with the idea of Zero Trust Networks that was eloquently detailed in a recent O’Reilly publication. These approaches suggest doing away with the VPN and the security stack entirely, placing internal applications directly on the Internet and connecting users to them through authenticating proxy servers.

While I believe the BeyondCorp approach has merit, and there is a great deal that we can learn from it, it’s also very difficult for small and medium sized businesses to adopt. The traditional security stack delivered from the cloud has value, particularly for businesses where consistent patch and configuration management can be a challenge. The VPN has value, because it draws a clear line between the organization’s assets and the outside world. The problem is that these assets are often hosted in the wrong place today, and better segmentation is needed behind them.

This is what we’re doing at OPAQ Networks – we’re drawing a new map for the practice of enterprise networking in the cloud computing era. By leveraging network security-as-a-service, software-define network segmentation, and a modern, global network infrastructure, we’re enabling our customers to build networks that are more efficient, reliable, and secure than they have ever been before.

Simplified Microsegmentation — From the Cloud

It is time to change the way that organizations approach network segmentation. In the past few years we have seen a mounting collection of threats target the wide open nature of most organizations’ internal computer networks. Although security pros have been harping on this for some time, most networks remain crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle – once attackers get past the perimeter, they often have access to any and everything inside the organization.

We’ve seen repeated threats recently exploit this exposure. We’ve seen incidents where entire organizations are crippled from ransomware spreading internally within their networks. We’ve seen the return of internet worms like WannaCry and NotPetya. We’ve seen more automated attacks that pivot from an initial point of compromise within a Windows network to Domain Admin access. In fact, experts are predicting significant increases in the volume of these attacks because of developments in attack automation.

Almost every organization needs to improve their network segmentation strategy in their internal network to cut down on these threats. What is preventing organizations from taking action?

Traditional Network Segmentation is Complex and Difficult to Manage

Unfortunately, the traditional approach to implementing network segmentation poses significant challenges. Configuring and managing internal firewalls and VLANs is both labor intensive and relatively inflexible. Network architecture is usually driven by the need to provide connectivity rather than security. Organizing machines with different security requirements onto separate VLANs is complex, and as soon as the work is done, users demand changes. Deploying multi-factor authentication for internal applications and services can also be a daunting project as each application must be separately integrated.

It’s no wonder organizations — particularly midsize enterprises — continue to struggle with implementing a smart, sustainable network segmentation strategy. What are midsize enterprises — and the service providers supporting them — supposed to do?

Zero Trust Software-Defined Network Segmentation from the Cloud

The term “microsegmentation” has recently become a buzzword in the IT world. These solutions provide a manageable way to lock down east/west traffic policies for cloud workloads. However, many of the threats we’re seeing – ransomware, worms, and domain lateralization – target end user workstations instead. What organizations need is a technology that provides easy-to-deploy software-defined microsegmentation capability that is flexible enough to support the entire enterprise network.

Since the acquisition of Drawbridge Networks in May 2017, we have embarked on integrating unique intellectual property into the OPAQ Cloud that allows users to manage software-defined microsegmentation for the entire enterprise, from a single pane of glass. The OPAQ PathProtect™ capability dramatically simplifies network segmentation, enhances network visibility and control, and enforces policy locally at each device, whether it’s a cloud workload or an employee laptop.

OPAQ PathProtect™ works by connecting software agents running on endpoints with a central controller hosted in the OPAQ Cloud. This architecture provides visibility and control from the cloud into every network interaction happening on every endpoint. This capability gives you the power to investigate incidents, protect against insider and external attacks, and prevent certain devices, such as compromised endpoints, from talking to other workstations on the network.

Microsegmentation with OPAQ PathProtect™ can be used to define granular access segments for users that operate independently from the network’s hardware and physical topology. It also can be easily updated when business needs change. Segments can be defined based on user identity, group membership and job function, and they will follow users as their laptops move throughout the network. OPAQ PathProtect™ can be used to enforce multi-factor authentication for access to any resource or service on the network, without any need to integrate with individual applications. This is possible because the central controller oversees all communication within the network and can authenticate users before allowing traffic to flow.

These capabilities allow organizations to adopt a security posture that is more aligned with Zero Trust security principles, in which users only have access to the specific applications required by their job function. Cutting down on unnecessary access closes the avenues that malware and network attackers use to spread laterally within an organization.

Microsegmentation for Endpoints, Not Just Data Centers

OPAQ PathProtect™ is a microsegmentation solution that can protect the whole network, including workstations, servers, datacenters, and cloud workloads, supporting the following capabilities and use cases:

  • Network Visibility provides detailed topological views of the interactions between hosts on the internal network. It is possible to drill down into different timeframes, hosts, users, process names, ports, and protocols for complete insight into network activity.
  • Network Access Control (NAC) to assign which resources, hosts and users can access services on the network. For example, unmanaged hosts can be prevented from accessing sensitive servers, and are identified and cataloged when they send traffic.
  • Multi -Factor Authentication (MFA) integration enables step-up authentication to tighten security for VPN access and within the internal network.
  • Granular Segmentation which is completely separate from the physical network architecture or network addressing, can be used to segment specific devices, applications, and data, and can keep track of hosts as they move around the network.
  • Quarantine allows organizations to quickly isolate infected hosts from sensitive resources at the touch of a button.

To find out more, view the press announcement, sign up for our upcoming webcast and schedule a demo to see how simple microsegmentation can be from the cloud.

OPAQ CTO Tom Cross Writes on Lateralization Attacks in First Article on CSO Online

Lateralization attacks are commonly used in most sophisticated breaches today. An adversary will typically gain a foothold inside the victim’s network by installing malware on a vulnerable device.

From there, the attacker will compromise other computers within the organization by moving laterally throughout the compromised network. A number of experts are predicting an increase this year in Windows Domain lateralization attacks. Organizations are increasingly looking for a solution that can prevent and isolate lateralization attacks from spreading in their network.

OPAQ chief technology officer Tom Cross was recently invited to be a regular contributor to CSOonline, one of our industry’s most respected publications. In Tom’s first article, he discusses lateralization attacks against Windows networks, and how to defend against them. You can read the full article here.