By now, employees have become used to the fact that working remotely will be a part of their lives moving forward. Even though vaccines are being distributed across the country and an end to all of this seems to finally be in sight, experts still estimate that around 25 to 30% of the workforce will continue to work from home multiple days per week by the end of the year.
This is because employers and employees alike have realized that not only is it a great way to cut down on overhead costs, but it can also be a boost to productivity and employee morale as well.
Yet at the same time, this new remote work culture has created a significant challenge when it comes to the topic of cybersecurity. That, in essence, is what cybersecurity mesh is designed to solve. Rather than continuing on with the “top to bottom,” all encompassing approach to network security, businesses must instead integrate security across their network in a horizontal, more distributed way to protect employees wherever they are at all times.
What is Cybersecurity Mesh?
At its core, cybersecurity mesh refers to the design and implementation of an IT security infrastructure that doesn’t focus on creating a single “perimeter” around all devices on a network. Instead, it creates smaller, more distributed perimeters around every access point that you’re dealing with.
In a more traditional approach to cybersecurity, your emphasis on network design would involve protecting exactly that: your network and everything on it. This typically meant paying attention to those assets that are operating in the same physical space that you do. Things like desktop workstations, network equipment, switches, routers and more. You’re essentially trying to build a “wall” around your network with access points that only certain people can use.
But now that everyone is working remotely, this mentality is no longer sufficient. It was already feeling outdated in the wake of the “bring your own device” mobile culture that has developed over the last few years, but the pandemic has accelerated the need for something new.
By making sure that each access point is as secure as it can be with its own perimeter, you can more effectively manage things from a central point of authority. Likewise, you have more control over the access of those individual devices should one suffer from some type of data breach.
The benefit here is that cybersecurity mesh doesn’t just provide a more comprehensive-yet-flexible approach to network security – it also lets you develop a strategy that actually makes sense when your employees are spread out in so many directions. It gives IT employees a better opportunity to keep track of different levels of access down to the device being used. It also helps prevent a hacker from taking advantage of one access point to compromise the entire network.
Why Cybersecurity Mesh Matters
Cybersecurity mesh is particularly important given the surge in security breaches that businesses and consumers have suffered since the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic began.
According to one recent study, approximately 20% of organizations say that they suffered a network security breach that was directly caused by remote workers since the beginning of the pandemic. Another study indicated that about 25% of employees say that they have noticed a clear increase in fraudulent emails, spam and phishing attempts over the last year.
Cyber criminals know that more people are working remotely than ever, and that the home network of your employees is probably far less secure than your business infrastructure by its nature. They’ve realized that they don’t need to spend all that time trying to gain entry into your fortified business network if they can simply compromise the smartphone, tablet or laptop of one of your remote workers who already has access. Once they’re inside those personal devices, they can see every last kilobyte of data that your employees can – which is likely quite a lot.
Equally concerning is the fact that according to the same source, about 26% of all employees say that they’re tempted to keep copies of critical business data in case their company goes out of business or if they lose their job as a direct result of the pandemic. So with that information, the scenario above becomes even more catastrophic because those employees likely have more data (and more sensitive data) than they otherwise would have had the pandemic not happened.
Cybersecurity Mesh and the Zero Trust Environment
All of this is to say that if your employees are now located anywhere, the protection you build needs to be able to extend there as well. You need to be able to secure things beyond the traditional security perimeter of your office, which is what cybersecurity mesh is all about.
A key theme at the heart of this involves creating a zero trust environment, which is exactly what it sounds like. Here, you’re creating security and enforcement policies based on the idea that you should not trust anything by default – unless a device or a specific user has already been verified. This is another change from the more traditional approach to network security, which operated on a “trust now, verify later” mentality.
Cybersecurity mesh and your zero trust environment play directly to the highly mobile culture that we’re now living in – one where your critical business data can literally go anywhere around the world on a smartphone. Cybersecurity mesh helps to make sure that not just your data, but also your equipment and your systems, are fully protected no matter where they are located.
So if one of your employees leaves their smartphone behind in a taxi cab or in an airport lounge, you don’t have to worry about all the information they have access to falling into the wrong hands. Five years ago, that would have been a nightmare – suddenly critical data is just out in the world, and you have no idea where it is or how to cut it off. With cybersecurity mesh and a zero trust environment, it’s easier to mitigate risk because all connections and access to your information are considered unreliable by default unless verified, which someone who found the phone wouldn’t be able to do.
All told, building your own cybersecurity mesh will require a complete re-thinking of your approach to IT security. The days of building “walled gardens” around a network are coming to an end. Relying primarily on passwords to secure access to a network and assets will soon be behind us, too. Passwords allow devices to access the entirety of your network with permission levels managed internally. That’s simply not an option anymore in an age when attackers can use things like artificial intelligence and machine learning to spot any weak password, regardless of how inconsequential it may seem.
It’ll also be far easier to do if it is integrated during the development process of your network or platform, rather than added on as an afterthought later. The development team responsible for creating your underlying network will need to integrate cybersecurity mesh during the architectural design for the best results. Likewise, you’ll want to make sure that they are taking appropriate steps to reduce the chances of cybersecurity threats on their own networks as well.