The federal government is getting closer to the edge.
Agencies once skeptical about the potential of edge computing have become emboldened by its power and potential. A recent NextGov report highlighted several edge computing use cases, including programs implemented by the United States Postal Service, the Department of Defense, and others. The programs have been highly effective in bringing greater efficiencies and intelligence to their organizations.
But all this promise can be undone by a targeted attack on a single device and that can be difficult to defend against. The decentralized nature of edge computing creates a lack of visibility, and the interconnected nature of edge devices means an attack on one can turn into an attack on all—and even an attack on the main network itself.
Here are three strategies to secure and manage edge devices and networks as agencies move to the edge.
1. Use Microsegmentation to Protect Endpoints and the Main Network
Microsegmentation is like the concept of network segmentation, except it focuses on devices within an edge network and the software they use. Microsegmentation is applied to specific endpoints, and traffic to and from those endpoints is monitored and controlled.
Microsegmentation is an effective way to segment edge devices from each other and from the main network. It prevents attackers from being able to move from endpoint to endpoint and from having access to the main network. Intruders are less likely to have access to an agency’s “crown jewels”—particularly classified or secret data. With microsegmentation, the potential for extensive damage is greatly mitigated.
2. Remotely Monitor and Manage Configurations to Make Sure Device Integrity Remains Intact
It can be difficult to keep track of whether an edge device has been modified or tampered with. This lack of visibility can be especially problematic if a device ends up in the possession of an adversary, who may attempt to make changes to extract information.
A change-tracking system like a configuration management database will alert IT teams of any unauthorized changes made to the devices on their edge networks. They can remotely monitor the status of their devices and, if necessary, disconnect them from the wider network or even wipe them completely.
Remote monitoring and configuration management is essential to edge security. Without these practices in place, U.S. networks remain vulnerable to attackers who could access proprietary data pertaining to troop movements, weapons systems, and more.
3. Turn Staff into an Effective Frontline Defense Through Engaging Training and Clear Best Practices
Protecting distributed networks requires everyone to play their part. This includes IT managers, warfighters, and anyone else who might use or have access to the network.
Soldiers obviously have a lot of other things on their plates, so it’s important for agencies to make cybersecurity as painless as possible for them. They should be trained to become aware of issues potentially leading to cybersecurity vulnerabilities while in theater and best practices to prevent and address those issues. They should also have a clear understanding of who to turn to if a problem arises they can’t resolve.
Meanwhile, IT staff should be kept continuously apprised of known vulnerabilities, threats, and cybersecurity monitoring best practices. In some cases, bolstering edge security might require augmenting current IT teams with security experts specializing in securing Internet of Things (IoT) environments. As agencies move to the edge, they may also consider increasing staff so they have enough resources to ensure their edge infrastructure remains secure and stays in compliance with agency protocols and security parameters.
Finally, everyday users must understand the basic steps they can take to protect the network. These could include not connecting unsanctioned personal devices to the network, not using home Wi-Fi connections, or simply not opening or responding to suspicious emails or webpages on work devices. IT teams can test user behaviors by occasionally performing drills designed to test users’ savvy in these areas (for example, by sending mock phishing emails to employees to see if they open them).
Training should be relatable and interesting. For example, real-life use cases are great tools for helping people understand the stakes involved in maintaining edge security. Injecting humor into a standard training session can be another effective tool—a means of leavening a serious subject without undermining its importance.
As federal agencies move to the edge, it’s important for them to keep these three strategies top of mind. It’s become increasingly clear a failure to protect the edge of the network is a failure to protect the agency itself and, therefore, the country.
Brandon Shopp is Group Vice President, Product Strategy at SolarWinds.