This interview is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent research guide, The Current State of Government’s Cybersecurity.
When it comes to defending government systems against sophisticated cyberthreats, the biggest challenge for agencies isn’t a technological one.
Even the most secured systems can be infiltrated by hackers who prey on one of the hardest areas for agencies to manage: the workforce. “The biggest challenge is always going to be the people,” said Bob Kimball, Chief Technology Officer at Ciena Government Solutions, a global manufacturer of communications network equipment and solutions.
It only takes one click on a malicious attachment or link to give hackers unfettered access to agencies’ sensitive data. To build strong defenses against these types of attacks, agencies need a strategy that focuses on educating the workforce and implementing technology that is secure, adaptable to change and able to meet their dynamic workforce needs.
Kimball, who is responsible for identifying technology directions and product positioning for sales of Ciena optical networking products to government and research and education sectors, sat down with GovLoop to explore how advancements in the networking world are shaping the future of cybersecurity.
“The networking world is undergoing a revolution unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” Kimball said. “And that especially points to the whole concept of virtualization and what virtualization actually means to the network. The reason it’s so critical to think about the network, especially now, is because people’s expectations for how they consume information has dramatically changed over the last several years.”
When it comes to work, employees want the ability to consume information wherever they are, whether that’s in another part of the office or out in the field. They want to access information on a mobile handset or their tablet. These demands are driving agencies to embrace the benefits of technology models like cloud computing, which enables agencies to provide widespread, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of resources.
“Providing this level of service requires a reliable network,” Kimball said. “When the network is always there and when functioning well it is not something we ever think about. However, to take advantage of the true promise of cloud the network is a critical component.”
A key component of many agencies’ cloud journey involves virtualization of networks and servers to simplify IT operations, improve how resources are managed and maintained and to reduce costs. However, with any change that makes information more accessible to a broader group of people, there’s always the concern about how those resources and data will be secured.
“There certainly are new attack surfaces that will emerge out of virtualization,” Kimball said. “The concept of centralized control of network resources and the ability to dynamically reconfigure the network to meet your mission requirements means that there’s always a dark side.”
There will be threats launched against different parts of the network that have never been threatened before. “But that’s not the end of the story because the capabilities enabled by virtualization allow new security paradigms to exist that weren’t possible through previous networking architectures and policies,” Kimball said.
Think of it this way: If you get rid of physical malware appliances, you’re left with software running on generic hardware. The hardware itself will be virtually hack proof because it doesn’t have a hard drive. “Now you have the ability to do things like refresh it with a known, good copy of the software as many times as you need to. So if a cyber incident occurs, instead of the incredibly expensive exercise of re-patching and fixing all the hardware, you can just refresh it.”
Because you’ve already paid for the software licenses, you won’t have to buy replacements. “You can do things like actively configure your network based on the environment,” Kimball said. “That environment could be a natural disaster, which means you may need additional communications to aid response efforts. Another benefit is the ability to reroute communications if there is a major network congestion issue. The fact that you have these capabilities to let the network itself adjust to its environment is really exciting.”
Agencies no longer have to stovepipe segments of the network. For example, they don’t need a routing expert who is solely responsible for routing activities. They can now manage their networking duties under a single, common platform that is agnostic.
The concern for Kimball is that some agencies will be slow to embrace these new technology capabilities offered by companies like Ciena. But for agencies that have already started down this path, the payoffs outweigh the growing pains of making a change.
“These new technologies increase workforce productivity by equipping employees with resources in a much more economic fashion,” Kimball said. “To get greater efficiencies out of cost-effective resources is really something the federal government should take advantage of.”
To learn more about the current state of government cybersecurity, be sure to check out our latest guide by clicking here.