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Designing Secure Networks with Cisco Technology, Part 3

In this multipart series I will be presenting some of the leading industry-standard best practices for enterprise network security using Cisco technologies. Each article in the series will cover a different aspect of security technologies and designs and how each can be deployed in the enterprise to provide the best security posture at the lowest possible budgetary and administrative cost.

In Part 2 of this series I discussed security risks and vulnerability. In this article we begin to focus on the role Cisco network and security technologies play in ensuring the safety and security of network data.

Cisco Security as an Industry Standard

With a continually growing presence in the network environment, Cisco Systems networking technologies have become the defacto standard in the vast majority of data and voice networks. There are many organizations that claim not to use Cisco as their standard, but like it or not we all rely heavily on Cisco technologies in our day-to-day lives. Governments, ISPs, telecommunications carriers, airlines, and auto manufacturers–these are just a few of the types of major organizations using Cisco technology to move critical data. Even those organizations able to claim not to use Cisco as a standard network technology utilize it every day for the Internet communications so necessary to their business, as the Internet is comprised primarily of Cisco technology.

The ubiquitous presence of Cisco network technologies readily positions it as the industry standard for data security, as well. Because Cisco is so prevalent in the network architecture it is uniquely positioned to apply security standards and policies not as a component of the network, but as the network as a whole. When we begin to think of data security not as a service running on the network but as a function of the network itself we begin to see the potential the network offers as a broad and highly effective security solution.

The complexity and inconsistency of multi-vendor and multi-technology security standards hinder the ability of security architectures to protect the information resources of the organization. Trying to deploy a variety of individual security products and devices can introduce gaps in security coverage and potential vulnerability, even in the most secure network environments. However, having the seamless functionality and integration of a network architecture as the underlying platform for a security architecture provides greater risk reduction than any individual product or combination of security products, regardless of features or performance. Organizations want to align security policy to their business requirements, while at the same time having the flexibility to adapt easily as changing demands in the marketplace. Since a good enterprise network design must be flexible and adaptable to changing business requirements, it stands to reason that a security architecture based on such a network design will itself be flexible and adaptable.

By positioning the network architecture as an underlying standard for the security architecture we gain a security solution that has many immediate benefits, including:

  • An omnipresent view of and the capability to deploy security policy to any point in the network environment
  • Capability to detect and react to suspect traffic at any point in the network environment, as opposed to only those points where a firewall, IDS/IPS, or packet filter are in place
  • Capability for the network environment as a whole to react to a security event, as opposed to only a single security point in the network reacting to the event
  • Greater level of interoperability between network and security solutions
  • Greater level of flexibility and ease of deployment in both network and security architectures

Simplifying the network environment with a tight integration of network and security architectures result in a security solution that is more effective and robust, yet easier to deploy and manage. Additionally, such a design provides a solid foundation upon which to build advanced security services and capabilities while protecting the existing investment in network components.

The Cisco approach to integrating security with the network architecture is billed as the Cisco Self-Defending Network. This approach to security was designed by Cisco and provides a method of integrating security into the network, throughout the infrastructure and deployed to protect each endpoint. This systems approach to information security is made possible by integrating security with every element of the network, turning each into a point of defense.

Cisco provides a powerful suite of security products as part of the Self Defending Network concept. These products include market-leading firewall, virtual private networking (VPN), network access control and intrusion prevention system (IPS) technologies. These Cisco security platforms and technologies enable organizations to design, implement, operate, and optimize secure networks that are resilient and reliable while at the same time aligning technology budget dollars with business direction and strategy.

While the Self-Defending Network strategy was initially built upon a foundation of key network security technologies such firewall, VPN, and IPS, as security risks continued to evolve so to did the Self-Defending Network. Today the Cisco Self-Defending Network includes industry-leading network and endpoint threat defenses incorporating application security, content security, policy enforcement, identity management, and security monitoring technologies. By integrating such capabilities with the base network architecture Cisco provides a comprehensive and flexible enterprise security solution.

By Mike Dailey, IT Architect and Sr. Network Engineer

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