updated - November 29, 2021 Monday EST
"Can it be that it was all so simple then?" sang Gladys Knight and The Pips in their 1970s cover of the classic pop song "The Way We Were." When it comes to secure networking, the answer is most assuredly yes -- and more recently than you might think, too.
Just a decade ago, a user using a company-owned device would almost certainly be connecting to a local area network, such as a secure direct MPLS network to head office, which hosted the core systems. Today, things have changed in a big way. The head office isn't a hub for all systems any more, as many have migrated to private clouds or even public clouds, utilizing a host of Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions and a wide assortment of apps. It's highly unlikely that the world will go back to the way things were before, too.
How does an organization protect its network in a world where critical systems relied on on a daily basis are not centralized, and may be spread across multiple clouds? The answer isn't simple. Or, rather, it wasn't simple -- until the game-changing technology that's known as SASE came along.
SASE, an abbreviation that stands for Secure Access Service Edge, has been a revolution when it comes to network security. Coined by Gartner in 2019, and pronounced "sassy," SASE is designed to simplify security and wide-area networking (WAN) through the delivery of both direct to the connection source (whether that be the user, branch office, or anything else) as a cloud service. It does this without backhauling WAN traffic to data centers for inspection, which can add latency, thereby impairing application performance. In short, it's an improved way to manage network security in an age of remote working, instead of on-premises connectivity. Customers are already reaping the benefits.
This had made SASE the perfect innovation to come along at roughly the time of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, many businesses were having to adapt very quickly to having a geographically dispersed workforce, relying on remote tools for everything from teleconferencing to speak with colleagues and clients to telework solutions for logging into work-based systems. It was a major period of readjustment and, while lots of companies did a great job of pivoting, there were nonetheless technological challenges along the way.
In many cases, companies leaned on the classic VPN (Virtual Private Network) technology as a solution, without going beyond this. Unfortunately, VPNs are not optimal on their own as an answer to network security challenges.
SASE is typically made up of four key components. The first is a Secure Web Gateway (SWG) that's designed to look at web traffic and filter out any unwanted content, block users without the proper authorization, and prevent data leaks and network threats, whether on-premises or for remote employees. The second part is Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB), which performs security functions for cloud-hosted services. A third is Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), designed to carry out real-time verification for users of protected applications. The fourth component is Firewall as a Service (FWaaS), which is able to protect cloud-based platforms, applications, and infrastructure from cyber attacks.
SASE can also comprise additional capabilities such as API and web application protection, network obfuscation, remote browser isolation, protection of edge networks, and myriad others. While it's true that network security today isn't as simple as it once was, due to changing demands, SASE is as close as you can get to a one-stop-shop solution. The technology that makes it work may be far from simple, but it's a flexible, intuitive and straightforward solution to deploy.
Understandably, interest in SASE boomed during the pandemic. However, this isn't just a solution that's going to recede in importance as the world gets back to normal following COVID-19. People and businesses talk about the "new normal" for a reason. Already many companies have said that they do not expect the workforce to return to the office full-time, even after COVID.
Some of the changes that have been made, both led by employers and employees, are likely to last, meaning that remote working requirements will continue for the foreseeable future. Notwithstanding the risk of another pandemic or COVID-related lockdown in the months or years to come, companies must embrace this new way of working -- and take every precaution they can to ensure it is carried out safely.
Employing a solution like SASE is a very definite step in the right direction. It means optimizing network security for remote working in a way that would have been completely unimaginable just a few years ago. Your employees and, ultimately, your customers will be grateful that you did it.
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