As the modern workforce becomes increasingly mobile and enterprises branch out as they grow their organization, Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN) have become a popular choice in the evolution of networking. By applying the benefits of software-defined networking (SDN) to traditional router-centric, hardware-based networks, SD-WAN offers enterprises improved flexibility, scalability, performance and agility.
However, with all the benefits SD-WAN provides organizations, it also opens the door for a new set of security challenges. In this article, we'll discuss how you can shut the door on those threats and use your SD-WAN to its full potential.
Issues with SD-WAN security
SD-WAN enables users in branch offices to remotely connect to an enterprise's network through a large web of connected devices over the internet. This IT sprawl and surplus of endpoints adds a layer of complexity to network security. Even one unsecured entry point could lead to a critical security breach.
While most SD-WAN offerings come with out-of-the-box security features, they should not be used as standalone solutions to securing your network. In order to determine what security features you need to add to your network, you first need to understand what features are included with your SD-WAN solution. If you don't have the knowledge of what is secure and what's not, it's easy to leave your system exposed.
Built-in SD-WAN security features
Most SD-WAN solutions only offer a few built-in features that can provide a base for network security. While they don't make up a comprehensive security solution, they are vital for mitigating risk.
Traffic encryption and VPNs
With so many devices and users connected to an enterprise network, the potential attack surface of transmitted data greatly increases. Many software-defined networking solutions have built-in 128- and 256-bit AES encryption and Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) virtual private network (VPN) capabilities. These protected tunnels of information in-transit prevent unauthorized access to the network and ensure compliance.
SD-WAN microsegmentation allows admins to segment traffic according to application characteristics and network policies. Segmenting out virtual networks within the SD-WAN's overlay prevents traffic coming from less secure locations from compromising other segments that contain more sensitive information.
Many SD-WAN providers offer access to threat intelligence services that can automatically identify and mitigate some security threats. Some of these services have now implemented artificial intelligence (AI) in their products to predict possible security breaches by identifying suspicious patterns in network traffic.
Ways to improve SD-WAN security
Baseline SD-WAN security provides some much-needed protection but enterprises need to take extra measures to ensure that threats can be properly identified and mitigated. Once you have an understanding of what security solutions are included with your SD-WAN product, the next step is to consider what security tools you might need to fill in the gaps. Here are a few solutions and best practices for optimizing the security of your software-defined network.
Most SD-WAN solutions come with a built-in firewall. However, these are typically stateful firewalls that only include packet filtering and Layer 3 protection. These firewalls may be effective in restricting unauthorized access based on IP addresses and ports, but they do not provide the end-to-end coverage that branched-out enterprises require.
The solution here is next-generation firewalls (NGFW). This modern firewall offers more advanced functionalities, such as Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDPS), deep packet inspection (DPI), sandboxing, data loss prevention (DLP) and more.
Most organizations now understand the importance of inspecting all traffic in their network. However, now that Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)-encrypted traffic accounts for the majority of traffic across the internet, it's far more difficult to inspect at scale. As a result, hackers often hide malware in SSL traffic, as they know it's less likely to be discovered.
Fortunately, there are solutions available that can intercept SSL communications between the server and the client. The traffic is then decrypted and inspected using antivirus scanning and web filtering. Once the traffic is cleared, it's then forwarded to its destination.
Regular system updates and patches
Cyber attackers are constantly looking for new ways to gain access to networks. For this reason, software and firmware providers often release updates and patches to thwart hackers' attempts. However, these updates are not always implemented automatically. It's vital that admins not fall behind with updates. This is particularly important for applications and servers. A patch management tool can help here.
As a side note, always make regular backups in case you encounter a problem during an update, so you don't lose important information.
SD-WAN security is a team effort
Many SD-WAN providers will tout their product as an all-encompassing SDN and security solution. But there are too many variables to leave security for an entire enterprise network up to one product. The combination of built-in security features and additional measures will help ensure your software-defined branch network remains safe from malware and data loss.