Security Experts:

Cloud is Creating Security and Network Convergence

Network Security Expertise is Needed More Than Ever Inside Security Operations Centers and on DevOps Teams

Digital transformation forces many changes to a business as it migrates to the public cloud. One of the most poorly examined is the convergence of network and security administration tasks and responsibilities in the public cloud.

On premises, the division between roles is pretty clear. The physical nature of networking infrastructure – the switches, routers, firewall appliances, network taps, WiFi hubs, and miles upon miles of cable – makes it easy to separate responsibilities. If it has power, stuff connects to it, it routes packets, and weighs more than 5 pounds, it probably belongs to the networking team.

In the cloud, where network connectivity features are defined by policies and code, the network is ephemeral. More importantly, the network is a security boundary – protecting services, applications, and data.

For many organizations, an early steppingstone in their digital transformation is virtualizing all their on-premises applications, infrastructure, and administrative and monitoring processes. Operating almost entirely within an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) mode, previously favored network vendors provide virtual machine (VM) versions of their on-premises networking and security appliances – effectively making the transition to public cloud the equivalent of shifting to a new co-hosting datacenter.

This early stage takes very little advantage of public cloud. VMs remain implanted in statically defined networking architectures and old-style network monitoring remains largely the same. However, as organizations embrace continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD), DevOps, serverless functions, and other cloud-native services, the roles of network and security administrator converge rapidly. At that point, network topology ceases to be the grid that servers and applications must snap to. Instead, leveraging the software defined network (SDN) nature of the cloud, the network becomes ephemeral – continuously defined, created, and disposed of in code.

With zero trust running core to modern CI/CD and DevOps security practices in the cloud, SDN has become a critical framework for protecting data, identities, and access controls.

Today, a cloud security architect, security analyst, or compliance officer cannot fulfill their security responsibilities without being a cloud network expert too. And, vice versa, a systems architect or network engineer cannot bring value to cloud operations without being comfortable wearing size 15 cloud security shoes.

For networking professionals transitioning to the cloud, I offer the following advice:

• Partner extensively with your peers on the security team – they too are a transformation and are destined to become network experts.

• Plan to transition from VM infested IaaS environments as fast as possible to cloud-native services which are easier to understand, manage, and deploy.

• Become familiar with the portal management experience of each new network (security) service, but plan on day-to-day management being at the command line.

• Brush up your scripting language expertise and get comfortable with code management tools. In a CI/CD workplace GitHub and its ilk are where the real action happens.

• Throw out the old inhibitions of consuming valuable network bandwidth with event logs and streaming service health telemetry. In the age of cloud SIEM, data is king and storage is cheap, and trouble-shooting ephemeral network problems requires both in abundance.

• Forget thumbing through network security books to learn. Training is all online. Watch the cloud provider’s workshop videos and test the lessons in real-time online.

With so many cloud critical controls existing at the network layer, network security expertise is needed more than ever inside security operations centers and on DevOps teams.

The faster in-house network administrators can transition to becoming public cloud network security engineers, architects, or analysts, the faster their organizations can implement digital transformation.

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Gunter Ollmann is currently the CSO of Microsoft’s Cloud and AI Security division. He is a seasoned information security leader who has defined and trailblazed new security markets through his work with globally recognized companies, including Microsoft and IBM X-Force, and startups, including IOActive and Damballa. As a seasoned C-level executive and technologist, Mr. Ollmann has been instrumental in several dozen M&A deals (as acqui-hire, acquirer, consultant, or adviser) ranging from tens-of-millions to billion dollar transactions.