It takes significant manpower and time to get network projects from A to B, especially as organizations migrate to cloud or hybrid cloud environments. With the hundreds or thousands of devices and connectivity options, there is a huge amount of manual effort required to manage networks and the workflows within them, while having absolute confidence that they are secure and free of misconfigurations. One small mistake – even something as simple as a typo when creating a firewall rule – and you could create critical security holes or application outages.
A simple error made during a routine change management process could open up a vulnerability that an attacker can exploit. And given the pressure from the business to make changes quickly – such as spinning up new servers or resources rapidly to serve a business need – those errors are all too easy to make. In 2019, misconfigured systems and cloud servers were responsible for the exposure of more than 7 billion breached data records, or over 85% of the total number of compromised records tracked in the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index.
So it’s no surprise that organizations are looking to reduce or eliminate these errors by adopting solutions to automate network change processes and management.But how should they approach the deployment of the solution, to ensure they get the maximum benefits from it?
The barriers to automation
Ideally automation should enable faster delivery, have a positive cost driver, and come with zero failure. Achieving true Zero-Touch automation in the network security domain is not an easy task. In reality, there are many challenges and barriers that organizations need to overcome.
Production environments in all organizations are maintained by different teams, for example DevOps, maintenance, cloud security, IT and more. Not all of these teams are educated in security matters, and some may feel that security is a constraint that slows their work.Conflicts between teams can be frequent, which means that automation is not always adopted.
And return on investment remains a priority for business leaders. Every department manager wants to be able to present to their superiors how automation helps cut costs. This is something that takes time to achieve.
A well-connected network map
To get Zero-Touch automation up and running, a detailed network connectivity map is a must. Establishing a comprehensive network map helps you to understand all of your network components and easily validate that the entire network is complete.
We developed a network map completeness score to help give organizations an indication of where they stand. If the map score is relatively low, the map completion tools can show what gaps are detected and provide a recommendation of what needs to be done.
Once your network is fully connected, automating each step of the workflow will help you to move towards the ideal of Zero-Touch automation, whether you are running on cloud based, hybrid or on-premise networks. As you come to trust automation, you will be able to automate more phases of the workflow until you reach Zero-Touch.
A typical network change workflow
There are several steps that organizations need to take towards complete network security automation, from a simple change request through to implementation and validation. Let’s take a look at the most common steps in establishing automation for a simple change request -
Step 1 - Request a Network Change
Every step towards automation begins with a request for a change. A business application owner, not necessarily aware of the firewalls, network map automation or security constraints, will see the current workflows and use this to make a change request in a language he understands.
Step 2 - Find relevant Security Devices
Once this request is translated, the change automation platform will handle the request and implement the changes to hybrid networks. The network admin will be able to see the firewall and routing devices involved in the change request that was applied by the application owner. He will also see the network devices organised on the map to help with understanding which are blocking traffic and which allow it, and where the change is required.
Step 3 - Plan Change
Change automation platforms know how to deal with different firewall and device vendors’ specific settings and how to implement the requests in an optimal way to avoid creating any duplications.
Step 4 - Risk Check
The administrator will get a ‘what if’ analysis, which risk checks the change. In this phase, the decision as to whether to confirm the change and expose the network to the risk mentioned is in the hands of the network admin or security manager, depending who is handling this phase
Step 5 - Push Change to Device
Once planned changes are approved, the ‘magic’ happens. The change automation platform implements and pushes the changes to the desired devices automatically, either through APIs or directly to the device (CLI).
This is a fully automated action that can be conducted on multiple devices, whether cloud based or on-premise. The push can be done in a scheduled manner, in your maintenance window or on demand. Without this, pushing the changes to multiple devices individually, sometimes on an hourly basis, can be a tedious task.
Step 6 - Validate Change
At the end of each request, the solution will check that the request was successfully implemented across all devices.
The solution also provides ongoing audits of the whole process, enabling easy checking of each stage.
Step 7 - Documentation and Logging
Network security automation platforms have the ability to provide you with a full, automated audit trail. Documentation happens on-the-go, saving IT and security teams time and accelerating tedious network compliance management tasks.
Another case is troubleshooting, which may be required from time to time, for example at the validation phase. Without a documentation trail, it can be very cumbersome to try and reverse engineer steps.
Put your trust in network automation
Over time, you can let the automation solution run handsfree, as you conduct more changes using it and gain trust through increasing automation levels step by step. Soon, you will have reached the automation ideal of full, Zero-Touch network change automation – eliminating network ‘grunt work’ and the risk of accidental misconfigurations, and the business disruptions and security holes they can cause. Zero Touch also ensures that the balancing act between security and business continuity is maintained, reducing risks while enhancing overall speed and agility.