Google leads the way out of the castle to the cloud

By Mike Recker, Manager – Corporate Systems Engineers, Code42

54312856_520Traditional IT infrastructure is built to centralize data and prevent intrusion. Like a bank vault or a defended castle in medieval times, valuables are kept in one repository and fortified to keep intruders out. In this scenario, the queen can behold all that she owns and keep her enemies at bay.

The centralized storage model worked well until the early 2000s. But the world has changed. A mobilized workforce no longer toils inside the castle walls—and they demand streamlined workflow from everywhere. Which makes tunneling into the castle (via VPN connection) to utilize the tools of their trade not just inefficient, but irrelevant.

Accepting the brave new world of security
As people, applications, e-mail servers, databases and virtual computing move outside the corporate firewall—and companies accept the necessity of shifting their security practices, big questions arise. How should applications be delivered? Where should data be protected? Google Corp has an idea:

Virtually every company today uses firewalls to enforce perimeter security. However, this security model is problematic because, when that perimeter is breached, an attacker has relatively easy access to a company’s privileged intranet. As companies adopt mobile and cloud technologies, the perimeter is becoming increasingly difficult to enforce. Google is taking a different approach to network security. We are removing the requirement for a privileged intranet and moving our corporate applications to the Internet.

Google gets it. “The perimeter is no longer just the physical location of the enterprise, and what lies inside the perimeter is no longer a blessed and safe place to host personal computing devices and enterprise applications.” In fact, Google decries the internal network (those drafty stone rooms inside the castle) are as dangerous as the Internet. And Google should know.

Let down the drawbridge; beef up the secret handshake
Google’s BeyondCorp initiative depends on device and user credentials—regardless of a user’s network location—to authenticate and authorize access to enterprise resources.

As a result, all Google employees can work successfully from any network, and without the need for a traditional VPN connection into the privileged network. The user experience between local and remote access to enterprise resources is effectively identical, apart from potential differences in latency.

Most companies will balk at the idea of enabling workers to access enterprise apps and data from anywhere without a VPN connection—much less store the data they produce outside the firewall–on the endpoint and in the cloud.

Change is hard, inevitable and here
The idea of enabling workers to store data on the endpoint with cloud backup goes against “mature” information security policies. IT will point to rules that require users to backup to the central file server where data can be monitored and protected. When the employee fails to follow policy and loses data—as a result of everyday disasters such as file overwrite, malware, ransomware, device loss or theft, IT can shrug it off because the employee ignored the policy. Or can they?

The biggest mistake IT makes is assuming the data is where it should be because people were told to put it there. When “process” fails, like it did at Sony, Target, Anthem and Home Depot, what should IT do to save face?

First, dust off the resume. Sadly, people lost jobs and in some cases, careers, because they believed the perimeter approach to collecting and securing data still worked.

Second, stop looking for a stronger firewall; secure the data where it lives on servers, desktops, laptops and mobile devices.

Third, understand that the enemy is outside and inside the castle. Make sure data is collected, visible and auditable so it can be restored to a known good state from a secure copy. In cases of breach and leakage, protecting every device with a backup assures faster inventory and remediation and substantial cost and productivity savings during data recovery.

Six data security practices for the brave new world
Plainly, data centers surrounded by defensive measures have failed to keep data secure. What does work is a security approach in which the data on every device is protected and backed up—whether or not the device is on the corporate network. The only thing missing in Google’s “trust but verify” approach is clear guidance on data backup and management.

That’s where we come in: We recommend these modern, proven data security practices for endpoints:

  1. Secure every device with full disk encryption (FDE) to disable access to data should the device be lost or stolen—inside or outside the organization.
  2. Deploy automatic, continuous backup of every device, every file and every version so data is recoverable in any event.
  3. Enable workers to work they way they do. Abandon processes that require antiquated behaviors and replace with automated agents that work lightly and quietly in the background.
  4. Keep encryption keys on premises to prevent unauthorized access from anyone and any agency.
  5. Trust but verify every user and device before enabling access to the network and data.
  6. Implement data governance tools that enable data visibility and analytics for auditing, data tracing and fast remediation.

When you live by these security practices in the brave new world, you’ll sleep better at night—even when the drawbridge is down.

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