For Cisco, the future of security is being shaped by software-defined networking

Convergence has long been a theme when Cisco refines its technological messaging at its annual Cisco Live! conference, but this year’s event leaned more heavily than ever on software-defined networking (SDN) as a unifying force – and, by extension, an enabler of DevSecOps’ vision of universal, well-integrated security and operational capabilities.

SDN has become widespread as companies revisit their network architectures to provide better manageability, more flexibility, and ad-hoc allocation of compute, storage, and networking resources.

It’s a model based on the flexibility of the cloud, and indeed in Cisco’s Umbrella vision the software controlling the network will enable seamless integration between on-premises and cloud-based environments – with security as a core capability managed by policies that automatically propagate across both elements of the networked environment.

Recent acquisitions such as Cloudlock cloud access security broker, Stealthwatch cloud-security analytics, Tetration east-west traffic analysis, and others have supported this vision, with vice president for global security sales John Maynard kicking off the conference noting that “the networking conversation and security conversation are completely coupled today.”

This was only going to increase as 5G mobile networking and emerging Wi-Fi 6 technology made wireless network access faster, more seamless, and increasingly risk-filled for enterprise data consumers who had already learned a hard lesson in the wake of 2017’s devastating WannaCry and NotPetya attacks.

Cisco’s DevSecOps-like model would address this risk with tightly integrated networks that would be able to use analytics to detect potential security issues, responding through automation to enforce segmentation and other policies to contain potential damage or block infection altogether.

A core element of this environment is the idea of Zero Trust – which leverages Cisco’s acquisition of Duo to look past the ravages of credential compromise, forcing users and their devices to be regularly authenticated based on a range of factors.

Yet the solution is more than technical, speakers warned, noting that cybersecurity’s “terrifying” image had compromised its standing within business organisations. With new Cisco research confirming that Australian data breaches are getting expensive faster than the rest of the world, CISOs know they need to get on the front foot to put cybersecurity at the forefront of enterprise transformation.

“We want to move from the situation of being overwhelmed to being empowered,” Maynard said – sentiment reinforced by Earl Carter, from Cisco’s TALOS threat-intelligence arm, who warned that enterprises faced dynamic and ever more-difficult attacks from cybercriminals who are getting more creative in their efforts because the “low-hanging fruit” – easily-exploited vulnerabilities – was getting harder to find.

One architecture to rule them all

Analytics was a common theme throughout the event, which attracted thousands of delegate and included hundreds of technical and informational sessions across four days in early March.