Securing a hybrid workforce with SASE


THE shift to remote work transformed our personal and professional lives. From a business standpoint, we witnessed an accelerated adoption of technology to enable organisations to operate remotely and with their employees working from home.

With the hybrid workforce expected to continue well into the foreseeable future, employees are placing a higher value on flexibility, and would like the ability to choose whether to work from home or in the office.

In fact, 88% of workers in Asia Pacific, Japan and Greater China or APJC are favouring a hybrid blend of office-based and remote work, according to Cisco’s Future of Work study.

Against this backdrop, enabling user access is no longer as straightforward as connecting the user at the campus or branch office to applications in the data centre. Furthermore, more companies are adopting a multi-cloud strategy, so applications are no longer solely hosted on premises.

This means that users are accessing these applications from multiple locations – and the apps they are accessing are just as distributed and dynamic. In this new paradigm, users still expect a seamless connection to the apps and services they need, regardless of the location or device that they are connecting from.

How can organisations keep this distributed environment secure for users while maintaining a simplified cybersecurity infrastructure?

Understanding SASE and its role in securing the hybrid workforce

While we hope businesses know by now that cybersecurity needs to be at the heart of digitalisation efforts, the complex cyber landscape adds to the challenge the industry faces. The multiple regulatory standards and a variety of different providers are just some factors that make security more complicated than before.

Today, the traditional security perimeter on-premises is no longer relevant, and the need to secure the outer edge of the Internet is more important than ever. IT teams need a simple and reliable approach to protect and connect with agility. This is exemplified in the Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) model.

Gartner coined this term just two years ago, alongside their vision for security that is fit for the cloud era. This is underscored in Cisco’s Accelerating Digital Agility Research, which revealed that over half of CIOs and IT Decision Makers (65%) in APJC are pushing applications to the cloud today and security is closely following suit.

What exactly is SASE, and what does it entail? As a cloud-based, as-a-service-model, SASE converges comprehensive networking and security functions to support the hybrid workplace. It is designed to provide strong secure access from edge to edge – including the data centre, remote offices, employees and beyond.

In fact, leaders are already rethinking their network architecture and are embracing SASE.

The same research found that over three quarters of IT leaders in APJC (78%) have adopted SASE solutions, which is higher than the global average of 69%. When asked why, they expressed their interest in staying up to date with industry best practices (63%), investing in cloud applications that needs to be secured (62%), and acknowledging that the workforce is going to stay distributed (40%).

SASE is made up of network and security functions such as Software Defined WAN (SDWAN), Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) and others. These individual components can succeed piecemeal, but making them all work together is where organisations can set themselves apart from competitors and truly transform their cybersecurity infrastrature and futureproof themselves. This is why SASE comes to the fore.

But SASE is a journey, so let us take a closer look at the components that make this journey.

Connect, control, converge

In identifying and deploying a SASE architecture that integrates multiple security and networking functions, organisations need to find the right partner that enables the three Cs.

Firstly, it is about connecting users to the applications and data they need to access. Secondly, controlling access is about extending secure services from the data centre to any cloud. This means establishing zero trust access and protecting users from cyber threats regardless of the location or device they are accessing from.

And lastly, it emphasises this idea of converging platforms that we can bring together networking and security functions to deliver secure connectivity in a more integrated fashion, as a service.

As digital transformation continues to accelerate and employees demand flexibility in where and how they work, SASE serves as a great advantage for various organisations in streamlining and simplifying their security infrastructure.

It also optimises business performance by ensuring the fastest, most reliable and secure path to the cloud and delivers the best app experience for users with end-to-end observability from the user all the way to applications. This enables them to resolve any issues or anomalies, no matter what network or cloud they are connected to.

Finally, SASE makes businesses more agile. Leaders can leverage the cloud to remove complexity from their infrastructure and provide immediate scalability.

These benefits are especially useful for companies operating in a distributed environment across the headquarters, branch offices or locations and users in remote locations be it at home or working remotely from a café.

Education institutions for instance, host large volumes of sensitive and personal data. Add to that the growing use of off-campus networks and public cloud services driven by the need for remote working and learning arrangements, the cyber risks and attack surface are exacerbated.

This brings about the urgency for an enhanced security ecosystem that enables comprehensive protection anytime for students and staff.

In line with this, Cisco is currently supporting Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) in strengthening its security infrastructure through SASE.

In fact, they are the first Hong Kong university to put in place comprehensive cloud-based security solutions to protect over 26,000 students and staff.

Through SASE, HKBU is equipped with high visibility of Internet activity and SaaS application usage, helping them stay protected against malware attacks and phishing links.

The SASE model also enables them to enhance incident response capabilities and effectively establish device trust before granting staff and students access to authorised applications.

These factors contributed to HKDU’s overall digital resilience against a rapidly digitalising education landscape.

Security that is fit for the cloud era

When it comes to transformation, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We recognise that the migration to the cloud is a continuous journey and organisations are at different stages depending on their business model and goals.

Moving to a SASE framework is no different. At Cisco, we have a strong heritage around networking and a thorough end-to-end security portfolio.

These are alongside our ability to scale and support the needs and demands of customers regardless of their size or geographical location. Such capabilities greatly help our customers’ journey to SASE at every control point.

They combine our best-in-class networking, connectivity, security, and observability capabilities into a single subscription service: delivering seamless, secure access to any application and anywhere users work​.

With SASE, companies can greatly simplify security and reduce the cost, time, and resources previously required for deployment, configuration, and integration.

Amid remote working arrangements, and the rapid move to the cloud, the various SASE components help with easy management, automation, and quick detection and response to potential cyber threats.

These contribute to a more resilient workforce and enable companies to strengthen business continuity efforts and prepare for the next phase of recovery.

Join us at the FREE live webinar “Secure Your New Hybrid Work Environment” this Thursday from 2pm-3pm to learn how you could maintain your hybrid workforce culture while securing your workers and company assets. The webinar is organised by Star Media Group in partnership with Cisco. To register for the webinar, visit bit.ly/starcisco21oct, and for any queries, contact events@thestar.com.my

Koo Juan Huat is director for cybersecurity at Cisco, Asean. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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