cloud-based security

Better security through cloud-based solutions

As the threat landscape rapidly becomes larger and more sophisticated, it is becoming clear that legacy security solutions are no longer as effective for protecting agency systems, and on-premises hardware often can not scale to protect growing internet-facing application infrastructures. Government agencies that are migrating their operations to the cloud need a cloud-based security solution that can protect online assetss, safeguard business and customer data and protect their brand image.

With cloud-based security solutions agencies deploy a third-party cloud platform in front of their private infrastructure and inline between remote users and agency websites and applications. This setup allows the cloud security provider to analyze network traffic for known attack patterns and pass only legitimate traffic through to the application. Such a solution can stop attacks in the cloud before they reach the target agency’s data center or applications.

For many agencies, the concept of stopping attacks in the cloud represents a paradigm shift. This approach moves the point of mitigation from the data center to the cloud platform and offloads the responsibility for mitigation from an agency’s IT staff to that of the cloud provider. This provides several advantages over traditional approaches.

1. Simplicity. Defending against distributed denial of service attacks within the data center requires scaling and hardening many infrastructure components. By moving the point of mitigation to a third-party cloud platform, agencies can eliminate the complexity of securing every part of their infrastructure from different types of DDoS attacks.

2. Scale. By leveraging the economies of scale that come from protecting many organizations at once, cloud providers can build a much larger infrastructure than what individual agencies can on their own. However, not all cloud security solutions are created equal. Even between different cloud providers, the scale of platforms can vary greatly. Agencies should evaluate the total capacity of the cloud platform – how much traffic it delivers on a daily basis as well as how much extra capacity it has to mitigate potential attacks and handle future growth.

3. Performance. Some cloud-based security solutions can improve performance while protecting applications against DDoS and web application attacks. These solutions often share a common underlying platform with a content delivery network that is designed to accelerate access to web applications. Because many performance-sensitive applications may already be behind by a CDN, this approach can help secure those applications without requiring a tradeoff in performance.

4. Threat intelligence. Cloud security providers typically have greater visibility into attacks and attack trends than individual agencies. They can make threat intelligence available to agencies in different ways, including through improved web application firewall rules, new attack signatures, customer-facing threat advisories and better internal response processes.

5. Expertise. The effectiveness of any agency’s ability to respond to DDoS or web application attacks is greatly influenced by its past experience in mitigating similar attacks. By defending against attacks directed at many individual organizations over time, cloud security providers can develop significant expertise and experience, on which they can draw when mitigating future attacks to reduce resolution times and customer impact.

6. Compliance. Government websites and applications are subject to stringent standards. Agencies must ensure that their cloud security solution also complies with all applicable legal regulations.

7. Cost. With a cloud-based security solution, agencies can trade an upfront capital expenditure for a much lower recurring operational expense. Considering the size of the infrastructure required to protect against the largest attacks, the savings from such a cost model can be significant.

The threat landscape is constantly evolving, and organizations must keep pace with a growing stream of new attacks. However, the increasing pace of change in the last few years requires a revolutionary, not evolutionary, approach to security.

When comparing different approaches to security, agencies should consider the strengths and weaknesses of each solution -- not just how it performs against the attacks of today, but also how well it will respond to those of tomorrow. Beyond the traditional metrics of scale and performance, architecture and adaptability will also help determine the efficacy of any security solution over the long term. How well will the platform’s architecture lend itself to defending against new attacks that haven’t yet been discovered? And how quickly will it detect and identify those new attacks before it can mitigate them?

As long as organizations have operated online, attackers have looked for ways to target them. And as the internet has evolved, the attackers’ methods and techniques have evolved to take advantage of the vulnerabilities that exist. The challenge with web security lies in that changing nature. Attackers are always one step ahead of IT, constantly increasing the scale of attacks through massive botnets or looking for new ways to take down web applications and infrastructure. Agencies should look to the cloud to provide the utmost protection for their online assets.

About the Author

Tom Ruff is VP of public sector at Akamai.

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