Outdated security, SaaS-empowered business execs demand CSO rethink: Forrester

Forrester's Dane Anderson

With Australian organisations spending nearly as much on software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications as they are spending to secure their entire IT infrastructure, CSOs need to treat internal users with the same level of distrust as they treat external users, a Forrester Research has advised.

Citing recent research that found companies are spending 5.1 per cent of their IT budgets on SaaS offerings and 5.9 per cent on overall network security, Forrester Research vice president and Asia-Pacific research director Dane Anderson told attendees at Novell’s Brainshare Technology Forum that the rapid explosion of new threats had made conventional ‘M&M-styled’ defences – which are based on the idea of a hard perimeter and a soft internal network structure – unacceptable liabilities.

“The ways we used to secure information are outdated, and will continue to become more and more irrelevant,” Anderson said. “The focus was on the perimeter and how to secure it, and this was predicated on a focus on trust and a believe that malicious individuals wouldn’t get past the crunchy exterior."

"One way forward is to make sure that all resources are accessed in a secure manner regardless of location: rather than focusing on the differences between internal and external networks, treating both of those the same.”

The rise of cloud solutions was part of a growing trend in which business leaders are asserting their demands and driving an increasing proportion of the IT spend, Anderson said: “the business is having a much bigger impact and growing their share of the spend much faster, and having a much bigger influence on the decisions that are being made,” he explained.

“When we ask them why, they say that technology is too important for them to not be involved. But this is where you start to see the disconnect between the business and IT organisations: the business are buying a lot of these SaaS applications and the IT department often doesn’t even know.”

The firm’s latest Forrsights Budgets and Priorities Tracker Survey found that business decision-makers reported far higher rates of SaaS adoption: whereas 28 per cent of business executives reported using SaaS-based collaboration or email, just 15 per cent of IT decision-makers were using them. Fully 35 per cent of business decision-makers were using cloud-based storage/backup solutions, while just 14 per cent of IT decision makers were using them. And 22 per cent of business executives reported using desktop-as-a-service offerings, compared with just 6 per cent of IT decision-makers.

This is where you start to see the disconnect between the business and IT organisations: the business are buying a lot of these SaaS applications and the IT department often doesn’t even know

Part of the reason for this gulf in perception and action came from what Anderson called “a big disconnect” between the way cloud solutions are perceived by business and IT staff: business leaders see SaaS solutions in terms of the business services they enable, whereas IT staff see SaaS solutions as infrastructure plays first and foremost.

That has significant implications for corporate security policies, which have to address and reconcile both perspectives into a coherent security model. Yet even that task is complicated by a lack of follow-through on the part of security professionals, who often lack the tools or the processes to get valuable security information out of the defences they have put in place.

“We find, both globally and in Australia, that a lot of security professionals trust but don’t often verify,” Anderson explained. “They might inspect and log all traffic, but a lot of organisations don’t inspect it.”

Even in organisations where internal authentication is handled well, the inexorable business-driven adoption of SaaS has forced security models to accommodate cloud-based environments – and, in many cases, it hasn’t worked as intended.

“A lot of companies are quite good at creating identity and access management [IAM] authorisation applets within the firewall and within the organisation, but are poor at doing that when it comes to business partners, customers, and SaaS or other cloud based apps,” Anderson said, noting that many companies are using IAM frameworks with outward-facing application programming interfaces (APIs) to extend those controls to sites both outside and inside the perimeter of the organisation.

Choosing standards to enable this to happen remains essential, since many organisations push for “too niche of a standard,” Anderson warned, while security executives face a much bigger challenge of reining in business-driven SaaS adoption and tempering functional enthusiasm with security best-practice.

“Business-ready self-service technology, and tech-savvy constituents, hold the power,” he explained. “Fighting that is futile; the trick is figuring out how to engage them better, and to make sense of it, because the old days are simply gone.”

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