As remote work becomes the "new normal," federal customers who are new to this space are facing challenges in protecting and managing their endpoint devices. Each mission environment has distinct needs and resources that don't always fit into a "one-size-fits-all" solution. Based on our experience in implementing remote work solutions for national security customers that have extremely strict security protocols, here are three important guidelines for secure endpoint device management.
Assign Clear Accountability for Security
Security is job zero and ultimately involves the entire organization, but there must be a dedicated security team in charge of and accountable for the design and implementation of endpoint protections. This is the most crucial step, but surprisingly, it is often neglected due to time and budget concerns. Fortunately, in the age of cloud, there is a myriad of tools to support the smallest security teams – even individuals – allowing them to scale their ability to safeguard your environment and data and to speed their response to breaches. Security teams are no longer limited to scrutinizing logs and opening multiple applications to gain a full picture of events in their environment. There are several excellent cloud-based applications from government cloud providers and other software vendors that can do everything from enforcing security policies to analyzing unusual events and sending alerts. Like the tools you have in your garage, there are many to choose from, each with different specialization and trade-off, so it's important to keep your resources and end goals in mind:
Remember that if the tool seems perfect for the job, but the learning curve is steep, it might take a few months for the team to make the best use of it. Consider starting out with a tool that is easier to learn and deploy. You can always trade up in the future, once your processes are more solidified. Keep in mind that all your tools play a role in security, but nothing is more important than standing up a dedicated and coordinated security team throughout the entire lifecycle of your workloads and their connected endpoints.
Automate "all things"
In the cloud, long gone are the days of manual tasks. Automation not only saves you time and resources, it is critical to maintaining security. Make sure that you build automated development processes and treat automation as a capability, not an afterthought. Every task you tackle will likely be repeated, so take the time to automate your tasks and build upon those scripts over time. Use cloud-based tools to send patches and security settings to endpoints, and set up a Gold Image Factory so you can automatically pump out the latest and greatest versions of your operating system builds and container images for your workloads. This will help bake security into the foundation of your remote environment.
Automation is the key to scaling your cloud services while keeping costs down. However, implementing automation can end up being trickier and more complicated than expected. Consider using tools and frameworks that help you move faster and more effectively. For example, use built-in cloud tools from your cloud provider or easy-to-use starter frameworks from other vendors. If your team does not have much experience in the cloud, select a Managed Service Provider that has already developed a robust framework and tools. The good news is there are many options, and you would not be wrong picking any of them to get started.
Evolve your toolset
Don't be afraid to start over. What you build and use on day one may not be what you need on day 360, so design the security to be flexible and malleable. If your cloud system outgrows the easy-to-use starter software designed for smaller clouds, don't spend too much time reconfiguring it. If you need to scale to 1,000 resources across 10 different clouds, rework your strategy, and find a solution that meets your growing needs.
You may find yourself thinking: "We've done all this work in X for so long, we might as well continue." Try to avoid this kind of rationale, as it's a sunk-cost fallacy that doesn't apply to the cloud and will pigeonhole your security process. A key advantage of cloud adoption is that you only pay for what you use. Don't be afraid to adapt and update your tools over time. Yes, there will be some rework, but that is okay. Do it, change, and change again. As threats are continually evolving, your approach to cyber defense must evolve as well.
Automating and building endpoint security is an ongoing process and one that will take time and forethought. Remote work is the future. Now let's make it more secure.
Gabriel Alix is Vice President of Intelligence at Applied Insight. Originally published by FCW on 28th August 2020.