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Planning for the Future of Remote Work with SDP

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With COVID-19 and the growth of the cloud, secure remote access is essential to any organization. Since traditional remote access solutions (such as VPNs) have significant issues, organizations need to look into deploying more modern options, such as the SDP functionality baked into SASE technology.

Secure Remote Access is Essential for the Distributed Enterprise

In recent years, the face of the enterprise network has changed dramatically. Cloud adoption has become commonplace as organizations flock to the promises of increased scalability, flexibility, and resiliency. The pandemic accelerated the trend toward remote work with a yearlong forced experiment demonstrating to many organizations that supporting a remote workforce is not only possible but desirable.

With these changes to how business is performed have come necessary changes to the architecture of the corporate network. In the past, most or all of an organization’s IT assets were on company-owned infrastructure within the traditional network perimeter. Now, they’re scattered over the globe as organizations leverage multi-cloud environments, support remote work, and allow the use of mobile devices for work under bring your own device (BYOD) policies).

With this distribution of the corporate network comes the need for secure remote access solutions. A network cut into pieces and linked only by the public Internet needs a means for traffic to flow privately and securely from one network chunk to another.

VPNs Simply Aren’t Cutting It

Secure remote access solutions have been around since long before the recent changes in corporate networking. Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a common and popular solution. VPNs create an encrypted connection between a network and a remote user (or another network) and send all traffic over this connection, protecting it against eavesdropping and potential malicious modifications.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of VPNs surged dramatically as organizations looked for options to support their suddenly remote workforces. However, VPNs have never been a great remote access solution and have several performance and security issues, including:

  • Rampant Vulnerabilities: For a security-focused technology, VPNs are highly prone to vulnerabilities widely exploited by cybercriminals. In Q1 2021, attacks against some VPNs jumped over 1500% compared to the beginning of the quarter due to new unpatched vulnerabilities.
  • Lack of Access Control: VPNs are designed to grant remote users full access to the target network. This excessive access and permissions creates an ideal environment for abuse and increases the potential damage caused by insider threats or compromised accounts.
  • Poor Scalability: VPN infrastructure scales poorly, as discovered by many organizations in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many employees and organizations adopted workarounds that improve performance and productivity at the cost of security.

SDP is a Superior Remote Access Solution

The mass adoption of remote work in the wake of COVID-19 underscored the need for effective and functional secure remote access solutions. As many organizations are looking to support extended – or perhaps indefinite – telework programs, they need to invest in architecture for secure remote access that actually works.

Software-defined perimeter (SDP) technology – also known as zero-trust network access (ZTNA) – is a modern alternative to the VPN. Instead of providing a remote user with full access to the enterprise network, SDP/ZTNA allows or denies requests on a case-by-case basis.

These access decisions are made based on role-based access controls (RBAC). If an organization has defined user permissions based on the principle of least privilege, then a remote user connecting via SDP/ZTNA has access to the resources that they need to do their job and nothing else.

This more granular approach to access control in secure remote access solutions provides significant advantages in terms of corporate security. Compromised accounts and insider threats are a growing challenge for organizations as excessive permissions are abused by attackers or the employees themselves. With SDP/ZTNA, the access provided to a remote user is strictly limited, minimizing the potential damage caused by a misused account.

Deploying SDP at Scale with SASE

Like any network security technology, SDP is only effective if it is deployed consistently across the organization’s entire network environment. This can be tricky to implement in complex networks composed of multiple different types of platforms.

A practical approach to implementing SDP/ZTNA in enterprise environments is to do so at the network level. SDP is one of the built-in features of SASE solutions. With SASE, an organization can consistently deploy, configure, and enforce SDP and its zero-trust security policies across the entire environment by routing all traffic over the SASE-hosted corporate WAN.

Making the transition to SASE and SDP also provides additional benefits to the organization. A good SASE solution includes a fully integrated network security stack, simplifying and consolidating an organization’s security architecture. Additionally, the built-in SD-WAN capabilities of SASE provide network optimization that is essential to ensuring the performance needed by enterprise users and applications.

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