The Edge is on everyone’s mind. It is impossible to pick up any computing or networking trade publication and not read about the edge. Why all the buzz? Edge computing allows data that is generated close to users and endpoints (IoT devices, sensors, factory equipment, autonomous cars, etc.) to be processed close to those users and endpoints. Edge computing minimizes networking latency and the cost associated with shipping massive amounts of data to distant data center or clouds.
Some have pondered the edge may literally save the Internet. With billions of IoT devices set to go online in the coming years, the current Internet and cloud will saturate. The edge is going to have a major impact on IT strategies and architectures in much the same way that the cloud has totally disrupted the world of IT. An October 2017 report from Gartner Inc. revealed that around 10% of enterprise-generated data is created and processed outside a traditional centralized data center or cloud, but by 2025 this figure will reach 75%.”
Edge computing groups ‘teams’ don’t exist in most organizations today, and those enterprises who are thinking about the edge are approaching it in small steps as they did the cloud. But it is important to recognize the edge brings its own security issues to the forefront. While some of them map to your current security operation procedures and practices, the unique nature of the edge drives some special requirements. Here are five areas that should be top of mind.
1. Detect and Track the Device Inventory on Your Network
Much of what you read about the edge is currently focused on the Internet of Things (IoT). But if you consider the edge is a physical place close to users that computes data, the definition greatly expands. As a result, there is a huge risk when many devices are being used, and in many cases being deployed by end users without testing or approval by a central IT team.
IT needs to discover and detect devices as they come online, and they must work with vendors of these devices to ensure regular software and operating system updates take place. “Security at the edge remains a huge challenge, primarily because there are highly diverse use cases for IoT, and most IoT devices don’t have traditional IT hardware protocols. So the security configuration and software updates which are often needed through the lifecycle of the device may not be present,” says Barika Pace, research director at analyst firm Gartner, in a recent article from ZDNet. “This is why when we talk about security in edge computing, tracking the threat landscape becomes more challenging,” she adds.
2. Create Profiles and Policies of Every Device
Just knowing what’s on your network isn’t enough. You must also understand each device’s normal, baseline behavior and create a profile. Select a tool that monitors device behavior and automatically creates a profile based on that information. That should include information such as the device’s purpose, the ports it uses, the kind of traffic it sends and receives, normal traffic destinations, and so on. For a security camera, for example, you would want to know and track what port it opens and where it sends its data. Once having established the normal usage, monitoring software can use heuristics to look for anomalies which would alert you to suspicious activity.
3. Adopt a Zero-Trust Networking Strategy to Minimize Breaches
Password sharing – and password breaches – are an unfortunate fact of life. Edge computing exacerbates this as the number of devices skyrockets to literally billions. How can you ensure unauthorized users are not gaining access to your network via an unsecured device on your network?
The answer may be to adopt a “Zero Trust” strategy. Originally defined by Forrester research in 2010, zero trust networks verify IP addresses and authenticate users from both inside and outside corporate walls. No one gains admission to the network or devices until all security criteria have been met. In essence, zero trust networks cut off all access until the network knows who you are. Given the scale of future networks, it will be mandatory to use Zero Trust as it is the best way to stop or minimize unauthorized breaches.
4. Proactively Look for Weak Security Issues
The race to market for new hardware, software and IoT devices often means that security testing is incomplete. Design flaws, poor coding habits and unstructured testing can produce devices and systems that represent threats to other devices on your network. The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) publishes a list of the top ten IoT security vulnerabilities, which is a good starting point for organizations wanting to identify the potential risks of their deployed or potential IoT systems. At the top of their list for 2018 is “Weak, Guessable, or Hardcoded Passwords”. Hence the recommendation for Zero Trust above.
5. Fortify Poor Legacy Security
Edge computing and IoT will augment and complement infrastructure systems. But given that many IoT devices will be managing and monitoring physical infrastructure, security breaches may result in damage or loss to property, commerce and people. From traffic grids to utility and power systems to public water supplies, hacked edge devices represent a huge risk.
When it’s time for your annual security audit, consider your current vulnerabilities in light of a new crop of unmanaged IoT devices being added to your network. Then patch or upgrade the weak spots in your existing network. That way, as IoT devices come online, your security baseline for your legacy network is strong and you can focus on the new generation of devices.
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