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2/15/2013
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More Intelligent Services Help Rein In Security Policies

From managed services to threat intelligence, companies are using security services to create better policies, as well as manage and tune existing ones

Companies are used to buying maintenance service agreements for their networking and security infrastructure. Increasingly, however, companies are relying on an array of services to help them establish better policies and translate those strategic guidelines into technical ones.

Service offerings allow companies to augment their expertise and automate a variety of necessary tasks, from policy creation to validation and beyond. By putting more intelligence into the services that support companies' network infrastructure, security providers aim to make the hardware more intelligent, said Mike Horn, co-founder and CEO at network-security startup NetCitadel. NetCitadel allows threat intelligence to be turned into rules for a variety of devices, from firewalls to intrusion detection systems, more quickly turning information about a threat into a technical defense.

"What companies have found is their [existing] solutions will tell them that something has happened, but they don't have the ability to close the loop," Horn says. "And that's where intelligence policies come in: How do I make something not just informational but actionable."

Many crucial services for companies revolve around establishing and managing the policy hierarchy that forms the security framework for companies. From managed services to cloud-based compliance applications to better threat intelligence, services have become a key component of security policy management.

Jody Brazil, president and CTO of network-device management firm FireMon, for example, likes to tell the story of one customer, a hosting provider, whose firewalls would seize up every week or so. The problem: Two many unnecessary and conflicting rules in their policies.

Products do not solve cases like this, Brazil says. The company needs the vendor's expertise to fix systemic issues to which poorly designed or managed policies frequently lead.

"There is rarely a one-size fits all solution to these issues," he says. "There is no 'Easy' button. It has to be part of a services engagement."

[Classifying data can help evaluate the risk of sending information to the cloud and better manage risk throughout the data life cycle. See It's Classified: The Secret To Cloud Risk Management Success.]

When setting and managing policies--whether using only on-premise technology or taking advantage of a service--companies should start by keeping the high-level goals in mind and do a complete inventory of their assets, says Mike Lloyd, chief technology officer for security-management firm RedSeal Networks. Following the initial creation of policies for the organization and technical policies for each device, the security team should also validate that each part of the network complies with policy.

"There are limits to what a service can do, but there absolutely a service component to this," Lloyd says.

Once a company understands their own assets and security goals, they can create strategic policies that take into account those goals well as compliance requirements. Creating checklists for dealing with high-level policy, however, is a route to chaos, says Brady Justice, director of systems engineering for TraceSecurity. Here, again, services can help turn others' expertise into better policy, he says.

"I think it is very easy to go get a template and call it a day," Justice says. "But companies need to continuously monitor how their policies meet their goals."

Services have also augmented companies' abilities to manage the changes necessary to keep technical policies up to date. When changes to network infrastructure, or new threat intelligence, requires a change to policies across dozens or hundreds of devices, implementing the changes correctly can be difficult, NetCitadel's Horn says.

"If you don't have a solution that orchestrates those policy changes, then you have to file a change request, and they have to implement those changes," he says. "That could take days weeks, sometimes even longer."

Keeping up with today's threats means turning intelligence into policy rules, and that requires the depth of expertise provided by services.

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