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August 26, 2021

Hey buddy – wanna buy a zero trust?

by Derick Winkworth

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to attend two technology events IN PERSON!!! Seeing people “mask-to-mask” has been fun and educational.   

Forward Networks recently exhibited at Black Hat in Las Vegas and AFCEA TechNet Augusta. Obviously, security was the topic at Black Hat, but it was also top of mind for TechNet attendees, and attendees at both events stressed the need for better network behavioral insight. A common theme amongst these totally different demographics speaks volumes about the need to improve how NetOps and SecOps share network insights to protect its health and integrity. (For those who are unfamiliar, the halls of Black Hat are filled with hackers while TechNet Augusta hosted U.S. Army technical experts).  

Obtaining current, detailed information presented in an easy to understand manner is critical for network health. Because SecOps and NetOps teams need the same network information to remediate and prevent incidents, there should be a seamless way to interact. Unfortunately, that’s not possible using most currently available tools. Engineers are stuck making calls, sending emails, opening tickets, and waiting for information that should be at their fingertips, thus creating unnecessary speedbumps. In June, we added security features to our platform that were specifically intended to help SecOps and InfoSec teams by creating “easy buttons” that eliminate these barriers.   

Prior to getting out and talking to the people “in the trenches,” we felt pretty good about the platform enhancements, but we also knew that the attendees at both TechNet and Black Hat would give us the unfiltered truth.  

The security features we announced in June (single-click blast radius detection, Zone-to-Zone security matrix, and an up-to-date Network CVE matrix) generated interest because they help SecOps folks work better and faster. Nobody wants to spend an unnecessary second of their work life combing through vender alerts, tracing paths, or inspecting code to find out the cause of an issue.   

While the positive reception was encouraging, what I found incredibly interesting was the level of interest in how network modeling can enhance security posture by detecting and preventing situations that traditional tools will miss because they aren’t designed with the nuances of SDN in mind.  

 What did we hear at Black Hat and TechNet Augusta?  

Well aside from schooling us on how to protect the world from Space Invaders while playing our classic Atari console, the resounding theme was when it comes to understanding and enforcing organizational security posture, the network is critical. Security engineers want to query the network in ways that traditional security tools don’t allow. SDN is changing the way threats are enacted and detected, and SecOps needs better info. 

For example, the Forward Enterprise platform can identify network-based vulnerabilities due to traffic being virtually routed around enforcement points. Since the days of mandatory physical connectivity to the firewall are in the past, it’s easy to mistakenly configure devices in a manner that allows traffic to bypass enforcement points. Manipulated packets passing through NAT may not be recognized by firewall rules, ergo traffic you think is being blocked could be permitted creating vulnerabilities or, traffic that should be permitted could be dropped, negatively impacting the user experience.  

Most of the well-known products in this space cannot detect these network-created issues because they don’t have a mathematical model of the network. Packets that are mutated in transit are unlikely to trigger the right policy response because they are unrecognizable.  

The technical practitioners I spoke with were excited to learn that not only can Forward Networks detect these types of issues, but using custom intent checks, the platform can alert engineering staff if an out-of-policy configuration change is implemented. Knowing that the platform can instantly provide correct information on policy adherence and detect out-of-policy configurations before they cause an issue was of significant interest to everyone I talked to.   

Do you believe in zero trust? 

If you work in networking, you can’t do anything without getting some sort of message that you need to improve your zero trust architecture. Lots of companies offer to sell you the solution to all of your zero trust woes.   

Because it’s been a topic of discussion internally – we decided that this was the perfect opportunity to put the hype to the test and see what people really think. So, my Seeking Truth in Networking Podcast co-host (and Forward Networks Co-Founder) Brandon and I decided to mic-up and talk to people for Episode 11: Zero Trust at Black Hat 2021: Networking meets Security. The conversations were sometimes funny and always enlightening. So, we turned it into our latest podcast. At the end of the day, yes there’s a healthy dose of skepticism – as there should be – but there are also real lessons to be learned and interesting ways people are applying these principles. 

Listen to the podcast to hear more, and tell us what you think! 

Learn more about how Forward Enterprise can help improve and protect your security posture. 

Using the visualization, verification, search, predict, and diffs function within the Forward Networks platform can help engineers ensure their zero trust architecture is designed and functioning as intended.  To learn how, read the zero trust use case.

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