A computer virus outbreak or a network breach can cost a business thousands of dollars. In some cases, it may even lead to legal liability and lawsuits. The truth is that many organisations would like to have a secure IT environment but very often this need comes into conflict with other priorities.
A successful business works on the basis of revenue growth and loss prevention. SMEs are particularly hit hard when either one or both of these business requirements suffer.
Data leakage, down-time and reputation loss can easily turn away new and existing customers if such situations are not handled appropriately and quickly. This may, in turn, impact on the company’s bottom line and ultimately profit margins.
Firms often find the task of keeping the business functions aligned with the security process highly challenging. When economic circumstances look dire, it is easy to put security on the back peddle. However the reality is that, in such situations, security should be a primary issue and this is where solution providers in the channel come in.
Wayne Hull, GM for Cisco UAE, says managing and securing today’s distributed and agile network is increasingly challenging, with cloud computing and sharing of data threatening security norms. Hull says online criminals are continuing to exploit users trust in consumer applications and devices, increasing the risk to organisations and employees. “Cybercrime, fuelled by the global recession, is costing global businesses and individuals billions of dollars, according to recent industry estimates,” he says. “It is a complicated world, with players big and small, organised and fringe, sharing a common desire to secure their own profits.”
Hull points out that as predicted in the Cisco 2008 Annual Security Report, attacks are only going to become more sophisticated and targeted as the industry moved through 2009 and beyond.
According to Hull, social engineering is, and will remain, the technique of choice for criminals devoted to mastering the arts of trust-breaking and reputation-hijacking. To launch an attack, a social engineer might seize upon the hot topic of the day, such as swine flu or a major sports championship, or pose as someone (a friend or family member) or something (a local bank or a well-known company) to lure unsuspecting victims into handing over their personal information and ultimately, their identity and money.
Pradeep Angeveetil, GM – Value Business at regional distributor Almasa IT Distribution, agrees and says as the IT threats are becoming more perverse, the IT channel in the region is seeing a lot more partners trying to add security in their line of business. “Limited business opportunity is prompting the channel partners to invest in niche segments and network security is one such area,” he says.
Angeveetil says the threats these days are more extreme and this has become a playing field for fraudsters and criminals. He adds that channel partners need to be aware that it is not sufficient to plug in firewalls and IDPs and then walk away.
He emphasises that adherence to security policies and a clear understanding of the business process of the end user is key to safeguarding the users and the infrastructure. “Insider threats are even greater than external ones,” he says.
Taj El-Khayat, Director, Channel and Commercial Sector at Juniper Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan believes there is need for solution providers to develop some expertise and specialisation when it comes to delivering network security solutions.
El-Khayat says from a focus perspective this year, Juniper Networks will be pushing solutions selling and encouraging partners in the region to embrace holistic solutions. In addition to solution selling, adaptive management solutions, compliancy and integrated security solutions will be high on Juniper’s agenda, says El-Khayat.
Guruprasad Padmanabhan, GM, Strategic Alliances and Channel Development at regional distributor FVC, believes network security as a focussed business area among Middle East channels is growing steadily.
Padmanabhan says traditionally this is a field that needs in-depth domain expertise, sustained focus, and investments to deliver differentiation, but one which is lucrative and well worth the effort looking at the number of solution providers inducting themselves into this business. “There is a steady growth in areas of standards and frameworks consulting and tools, identity and user life cycle management and DPI,” he says.
He adds that security adoption among SMEs will form a big part of the opportunity in 2010 for the Middle East channel.
Judhi Prasetyo, Regional Channel Manager at Fortinet Middle East, says there is no denying that the security space in general is a lucrative sector to play in as a reseller or solution provider.
Prasetyo says see more and more channel partners are taking dual roles as consultant as well as reseller. “They don’t just sell the products but also offer solutions that are tailor-made to the customer’s business need,” he says. “This differentiates them as solution providers rather than just ordinary resellers. We have noticed this across all market segments: from SMB to enterprise to service provider.
Tackling cyber threats
Hull argues that although it’s true that cybercrime has only become more pervasive and sophisticated over the last two years, there has been some positive news clearly illustrating the growing effectiveness of the means for fighting back. “The unprecedented level of cooperation and participation by the security community and industry in response to the Conficker threat marked an important turning point in the ongoing battle against cybercrime and fast-moving and far-reaching Internet security events,” he notes.
El-Khayat concurs and says the amount of IT threats being created are growing on a daily basis leaving many CIOs and CSOs to place the security of their networks to be high on their agenda. “I do believe that savvy solution providers need to be at the forefront of helping their customers find lasting solutions to the cyber threats,” he says.
Hull agrees and goes on to explain that online criminals constantly adapt and refine their techniques for reaping illegal revenue, security professionals and individual computer users must become even more sophisticated in their own approaches to combating security threats. He says there are encouraging signs that aggressive “good guy” collaboration can succeed.
Hull cites the Conficker Working Group as an excellent example of how a collective effort can go a long way to combat cyber threats.
Angeveetil says there are immense opportunities if solution providers in the Middle East channel specialise and educate the market. “Threats that most end-user customers are unaware of can be turned into opportunities for channel partners,” he says.
However, Angeveetil says the channel needs to ensure that they do not treat this as a box sale but rather a solution one. “They should only concentrate on areas that they are good at and have resources to address that requirement to the end-user customer,” he says.
Angeveetil advises channel partners to take advantage of the training and certification programmes that are on offer. “All our vendors in the Almasa stable have mandatory certification programs and some of them offer incentives to pass,” he says. “It is in the partners’ interest to get certified and earn the focus from the vendor.”
Padmanabhan says FVC is enabling and empowering its partners to address key growth areas in security such as compliance and configuration management, email and Web security, Web application security, intrusion prevention systems, and identity and user life cycle management systems. “The need for solution providers is to ensure proper education for their customer base and top that with mitigation strategies on their networks,” he says.
He points out that the mobility device security market is an emerging opportunity, one that solution providers will have to capitalise on.
Padmanabhan says as part of FVC’s wider channel initiatives, the company runs several threat landscape roadshows sponsored by the vendors whose security products it represents. He adds that through FVC’s authorised training provider team, the company also runs certification training on DPI, Intrusion Prevention Systems and Compliance and Management systems in addition to running periodic education workshops on threat mitigation techniques using FVC vendor technologies.
Mobile devices threat
Social media experienced explosive growth in 2009. Facebook alone tripled its active user base to 350 million over the course of the year. Social media adoption is expected to continue growing into 2010, especially as more organisations realise the value of social networks as an absolute business requirement.
Hull says social networks have quickly become a playground for cybercriminals because members of these sites put an inordinate amount of trust in the other members of their communities and often fail to take precautions to prevent the spread of malware and computer viruses. “Attacks are now driven by profit, not just notoriety,” he says. “With this increased focus on the profit motivated attack there comes new methods of attack, making the profit motivated attack even more difficult to defend against.”
Hull adds that new technologies for collaboration and communication including mobile devices are being adopted by businesses and enabling tremendous gains in productivity and flexibility, empowering new customer facing applications based on Web 2.0, Web Services and SOA, and allowing users to work from anywhere, anytime. “The perimeter has begun to erode as more and more applications open up a direct path to users and the external world,” he says.
Almasa’s Angeveetil acknowledges that mobile devices that have access to company networks pause a threat if these are not properly secured and managed. However. Angeveetil says there are good SSL VPN technologies that give the flexibility to organisations to access information at all times even from a public PC. “There is a gamut of channel opportunities that will arise once the customer is educated on these,” he says.
He explains that the only thing is that one needs to empathise with the mobile worker when building a security network. Solution providers need to be aware of the risks involved with the mobile worker as well. “Complicated implementations can result in failure and frustration,” he notes.
Prasetyo agrees and adds that the advent of mobile work forces has created a real concern. “Data communication involving mobile devices poses more risks to networks,” he says.
Prasetyo points out that VARs in the Middle East channel can grab this business opportunity by offering niche solutions such as FortiCarrier and FortiClient Mobile to telecommunication operators and mobile phone users.
FortiCarrier is a network security solution that is designed to work in the service provider environment and FortiClient is a software for mobile phone that combines personal Firewall, antivirus, IPS, antispam and VPN client in single application.
Cisco is focused on offering channel partners solutions that address and deliver business security. “These solutions are delivered as components of the Self-Defending Network security strategy,” Hull says.
According to Hull, this approach allows organisations to streamline IT risk management by reducing security and compliance risk, enforcing business policies and protecting critical assets, all while decreasing the IT administrative burden and reducing total cost of ownership.
Hull says some of the recommendations for channel partners in the Middle East include: Security must move at the speed of crime.
He explains that organisations and users must not wait to patch their operating systems and applications. “The list of vulnerabilities grows every day, as does the number of new applications (and versions of existing applications),” he says.
Looking ahead, there is no refuting that the complexity of attacks is increasing. Thus, businesses and users have no choice but to become more agile in deploying countermeasures and working with appropriate solution providers and IT security specialists to respond to attacks.
In addition, security solutions need to be built to react rapidly. Anti-spam systems have become the blueprint for this model. For years now, new attacks have been developed and new techniques have been deployed to meet those threats effectively. All threats are heading in this direction and solutions must do the same.
It’s vital to also take into consideration the enemy from within. As some individuals may have lost their jobs because of the global economic woes, insider threats will be of increasing concern for organisations in the months ahead.
Today’s organisations big or small need to create progressive policies that encompass anti-malware, acceptable use policies, and data loss prevention, and that are designed to help ensure regulatory compliance. All this means one thing for savvy solution providers – more opportunities.
Organisations often find the task of keeping the business functions aligned with the security process highly challenging. When economic conditions are grim, it?s easy to turn security into a checklist item that keeps being pushed back and this is where channel partners need to come in. RWME?s Manda Banda finds how channel partners can help businesses to guard against network security breaches.