Executives from Cisco share insights on the networking giant's ambitious security strategy.

RSA CONFERENCE 2021 - On the heels of Cisco Systems' announcement late last week that it plans to acquire vulnerability risk management firm Kenna Security, a top security executive at Cisco yesterday said the company is considering rolling "most" of Kenna's security analytics technology into a premium version of its SecureX platform.

Gee Rittenhouse, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's security business, said in an invitation-only press and analyst roundtable that Kenna's technology, which uses machine learning to analyze and pinpoint which vulnerabilities organizations should prioritize, "will be part of SecureX."

SecureX is Cisco's cloud-native security platform for integrated visibility of devices on the network that comes with Cisco products today, and it can be integrated with other vendors' security tools.

Rittenhouse said Cisco was still determining its final plans for the Kenna analytics and other features, but "most of Kenna's [technology] will be in a premium release of SecureX."

While SecureX comes packaged with Cisco's products today, the company is planning a "premium" version with more advanced features. "A few of the features Kenna offers will be in that category," he said. "That's very valuable" to help enterprises prioritize addressing their vulnerabilities amid the changing threat landscape, and analytics is a key element of security going forward, he noted.

Jon Oltsik, senior principal analyst and fellow with Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), says Cisco likely will sell Kenna's vulnerability management analytics product as a stand-alone offering, but also incorporate it into SecureX.

"Cisco could — and likely will — continue to sell Kenna on a stand-alone basis, but it also wants to offer all the elements of risk management, [such as] the threat and vulnerability sides, in SecureX. I suspect that some basic elements of Kenna will be offered as part of standard SecureX, but Cisco is clearly thinking about premium SecureX services that can be layered on top of the standard package," Oltsik said.

Rittenhouse and Cisco's Jeetu Patel, senior vice president and general manager of security and collaboration, during the roundtable event described Cisco's integrated security strategy that folds security into its products, using SecureX as the cloud-based security management platform.

"We're noticing from our customers' perspective that they are actually thinking about ... secure connectivity, bringing security and the network together," Rittenhouse said, and that's driving Cisco's integration of security and network equipment, as is the need for streamlining and simplifying security. "It's not just for simplicity from SecOps' [perspective] but making it so simple that the NetOps people can now secure their enterprise" without needing to know about endpoints or zero trust, for example.

Cisco's overall security strategy encompasses three main parts, according to Patel. The first is to focus on control points: users, devices, networks, applications and data, where attackers target. The second element is access control, as in monitoring for any unusual or anomalous behavior from a user's account after they have logged in to the network. "We want to make sure we have data on a behavioral level after people log in. Just because they got in doesn't mean they get free rein," he said.

The third piece of Cisco's security strategy is extended detection and response (XDR), spotting an intrusion, correlating it across various areas, and knowing what to do in response. "What do you need to do to remediate and have the right level of risk-based vulnerability management?" Patel said.

ESG's Oltsik said Cisco's approach with SecureX and end-to-end security is helping Cisco customers. But other organizations may be more likely to stick with traditional security vendors, such as Check Point, FireEye, Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks, Trend Micro, and others.

"Cisco does have a bit of a home court advantage for SASE and zero trust, which lean a lot on the network. But XDR will require more marketing investment, customer education," he said.

Cisco CEO Delivers RSAC Keynote
Meanwhile, in a keynote address at RSAC yesterday, Cisco chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins reiterated Cisco's strategy of building security into all aspects of the network. "Security has to be at the heart of everything," Robbins said. Cisco has been building security into all of its technology, including its Ethernet network switches and its WebEx communications platform, he said.

Making security comprehensive and simple to use is key, he said. "Simplicity will help you detect, correlate, and monitor" threats, Robbins said.

"There is really no perimeter in the enterprise to defend anymore. We need visibility across
endpoints, users, and applications as well as securing critical control points
with continuous passwordless authentication," he said.

Robbins also noted the importance of developing existing talent and in creating more opportunities for diverse backgrounds and skill sets to become part of the security industry.

Cisco also made several product announcements yesterday, including SecureX enhancements that address integrating IT and security inventory and visibility, endpoint detection and response (EDR) to XDR transition functions, new cloud security features via its SASE offering, updates to its Umbrella cloud-based firewall, and a new cloud-native firewall for Kubernetes development environments.

About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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