May 28 2021

How to Stay Secure Even as Business Circumstances Change

When growth or other changes come, organizations must rethink whether their existing security stacks are up to the task.

When Gerardino Di Popolo joined the law firm Pressler, Felt & Warshaw in 2018, the IT director inherited a firewall that chugged along and worked fine. Then, last year, several problems emerged: slow and unstable VPN connections, sluggish email filtering and occasional crashes, which sometimes caused delays in work and client communications.

On any given day during the pandemic, about half the firm’s 230-person staff worked remotely, relying on the firewall’s built-in VPN features to securely access their applications and data from home. However, it dropped users as often as five times a day and severely curtailed their bandwidth speeds.

In response, Di Popolo upgraded to three Cisco products — next-generation firewalls, email threat protection solutions and VPN software — that have solved the company’s security, bandwidth and connection woes.

“Being a law firm, every minute counts,” Di Popolo says. “This gives us a faster and much more stable connection. It’s been a good experience.”

Security Must Adapt to Change

Businesses and nonprofits today face increasing security challenges, which can require them to invest in more robust protection.

As circumstances change, security solutions must adapt or be replaced. Sometimes, organizations grow organically out of their existing stacks. Other times, an external event, such as a pandemic, forces change. Internal situations, such as deploying a new network or new applications, can also render an existing security stack insufficient.

“Companies are always realizing that they are outgrowing their security architectures,” says Frank Dickson, program vice president of IDC’s cybersecurity products research practice.

To combat constantly changing cyberthreats, organizations must continually review their security p­ostures and adapt to changing circumstances and requirements, and that includes updating or augmenting their security tools — and training employees on security best practices — to safeguard their organizations, he says.

Gain Cyber Protection Without Sacrifice

Di Popolo says he knew his law firm, based in Parsippany, N.J., had outgrown its existing firewall when several issues arose simultaneously last year.

Besides slow, spotty VPN access, the IT department had replaced an old phone system with Cisco Unified Communications Manager — but the new IP phone system wouldn’t work properly with the existing firewall. IT staffers were on the phone with the firewall vendor for up to six hours a day for two weeks in search of a workaround.

WATCH THE WEBCAST: Learn how to protect the new digital landscape.

Slow email filtering was also a problem. The firewall was single-threaded, meaning it scanned emails for malicious content one at a time. When the firewall came across a large email attachment, it would take hours to scan, clog up the email system and crash the firewall, forcing the IT staff to reboot.

“We paid extra for a product that’s meant to keep us secure, but it denied our ability to use email,” Di Popolo says. “It worked as if it was a denial of service attack.”

Eventually, the team had to turn off the threat protection to get email working again.

In February, Di Popolo upgraded to two new Cisco FirePower 1000 Series next-generation firewall appliances, a Cisco Secure Email appliance and Cisco AnyConnect VPN client software. He also subscribed to Cisco Threat Defense 2.0, a service that analyzes network traffic and rapidly detects and responds to security threats.

The two firewalls, which are paired for high availability, are more user-friendly. While the previous firewall required 15 steps to create a policy, the new Cisco firewall requires only three steps, Di Popolo says. Cisco Secure Email not only filters email for malicious content but also has data loss prevention features that block staffers from sending sensitive information over email, he says.

Employees are also getting faster and more stable VPN connections, allowing them to securely access a homegrown application they use for daily operations, along with Microsoft Office and Cisco’s Jabber communication and collaboration software.

“Once we switched over, the bandwidth was wide open again,” he says. “Overall, we are satisfied with the new solutions and the additional security levels we have now.”

Gerardino Di Popolo
Once we switched over, the bandwidth was wide open again.”

Gerardino Di Popolo IT Director, Pressler, Felt and Warshaw

Security Baked Into Everyday Operations

Last year, Monical’s Pizza wanted to boost network and Wi-Fi performance and strengthen security at its headquarters and restaurants in the Midwest. It did so by upgrading its networking equipment with Fortinet SD-WAN and Secure SD-Branch technology.

An upgrade was necessary for the Bradley, Ill.-based pizza chain so it could continue to comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, says Douglas Davis, the company’s information systems coordinator.

“Our equipment was outdated, and PCI-DSS compliance has rules and regulations with equipment and certain encryption technologies, and our equipment could not keep up with the requirements,” he says.

Davis and his IT team built a s­oftware-defined WAN that creates a secure virtual tunnel between its headquarters and its 32 company-owned restaurants in Illinois and Missouri.

In early 2020, the company first installed a FortiGate 300E Series SD-WAN appliance, FortiGate switches and wireless access points at its headquarters. Then, over the summer, it installed at each restaurant Fortinet’s SD-Branch equipment, which includes a next-generation firewall, switches and Wi-Fi access points.

The result is much faster bandwidth and improved security. Davis uploads sales data from each store every Monday, a process that used to take up to an hour and a half. It now takes just 15 minutes or less, thanks to Fortinet’s network and SSL VPNs, he says: “The retrieval time blew my mind.”

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Can artificial intelligence play a role in cybersecurity?

The next-generation firewalls at each store-owned location and the built-in firewall within the SD-WAN appliance at headquarters improve security because they offer intrusion prevention, web filtering and anti-malware protection, Davis says. What’s more, the encrypted VPN sessions protect customers’ transactional data and employee data, such as time sheet information.

“That’s data we need to protect,” he says. “We make it very hard for hackers.”

Finding Security in the Cloud

Within two days of the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine implemented two cloud-based security tools that enabled 1,500 employees to remotely access critical applications.

Instead of VPNs that connect directly to the nonprofit’s network, the IT staff installed Zscaler Private Access, which provides employees cloud-based access to critical applications such as the grants management system, the human resources system and customer relationship management software.

As part of the login process, the foundation also deployed the cloud-based multifactor authentication tool Cisco Duo for extra security, says Rizwan Jan, HJF’s vice president and CIO. The fact that both solutions were cloud-based made it faster and easier to implement, he says.

“In IT, security stuff usually takes forever to roll out, but we were able to do it in two days, from testing to production,” Jan says. “We started on a Thursday, and by the time Monday came, people were able to connect from home.”

Securing an Organization with Global Reach

The foundation, which facilitates medical research, also upgraded its hardware in Africa to improve Citrix performance during the pandemic.

The upgrade allowed researchers located in Kenya, Tanzania and Liberia to launch virtual desktops and access research data, he says.

Jan has fortified security since his arrival in 2016 by building a security operations center and cyberthreat intelligence capability to meet regulatory and Defense Department requirements. He’s also implemented application security and third-party risk governance solutions and security awareness training for employees.

Every year, he invests in new security tools to protect the organization from cyberthreats. Last summer, he installed Varonis, a data governance tool that allows the IT staff to tag and classify data to prevent sensitive information from being shared.

“It’s an ongoing journey,” he says. “I am well aware we will never be 100 percent secure. It’s about continually reducing risks.” 

Brian Stauffer/Theispot

Zero Trust–Ready?

Answer 3 questions on how your organization is implementing zero trust.