How merging networking and security can avoid ‘chaos’ in enterprise

15 Dec 2023

Apurva Mehta. Image: Scott R Kline

Versa Networks’ Apurva Mehta discusses his role as CTO, the benefits of unified SASE and the affect of AI on the cybersecurity sector.

Apurva Mehta is the chief technical officer (CTO) of Versa Networks, a network and cybersecurity company that he founded in 2013 with his brother Kumar.

Mehta says that the inspiration for Versa Networks came during his time working as CTO and chief architect at Juniper Networks’ Mobility Business Unit.

“Kumar and I noticed that organisations were looking for a software-defined solution for networking and security services that was programmable, cloud native and suitable for the new age of software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications.

“This is the fundamental reason why we started Versa Networks.”

‘Through contextual security, unified SASE can secure applications in both the cloud and on premises’

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape and how are you addressing them?

One of the biggest challenges facing IT teams and security teams is people returning to the office. When people were forced into remote working, zero trust became the standard security approach for most businesses.

However, our craving for social interaction means that many employees are choosing to work from offices at least a few days a week. The latest reports show that by the end of 2022, 53pc of US workers were engaging in a hybrid manner. This means that we need to update our approach towards zero trust.

The zero-trust approach remains laser-focused on remote work and has yet to fully adapt to folks returning to the office. Zero trust is usually cloud-delivered, therefore it typically becomes inactive when users are on site, thereby reverting them to less secure, perimeter-based security or network access control (NAC) solutions. This then poses significant challenges for an organisation in terms of access security and weakens its security posture.

It’s not just security which is affected but also networking performance. Many features such as inline security inspection are performed in the cloud or at the perimeter, which can result in slow networking performance. Additionally, due to the higher bandwidth and processing demands, the cost of IT increases.

We’re addressing this problem by integrating ZTNA [zero trust network access] and software-defined local area network (SD-LAN), an approach we call ‘Zero Trust Everywhere’. This convergence incorporates the security principles of zero trust with the flexibility and efficiency of SD-LAN. Through this new approach, organisations can maintain a strong security posture, whilst ensuring users have a fast and seamless user experience.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation in a broad sense within your industry? How are you addressing it in your company?

Digital transformation has triggered a mass migration of applications to the cloud, and this trend is showing no sign of slowing. It has reshaped the way we think about network and security. Previously, businesses had separate solutions for both networking and security. However, this approach no longer works, and organisations are seeking more streamlined and simplified consolidated solutions.

We are in a highly connective world and enterprises are extremely reliant on both networking and security. If businesses have connection problems or a security breach, there’s chaos. Employees demand optimal connection to applications 24/7 and business leaders expect their networks to be safe from cyberattacks at all times.

As a result, IT and security teams are looking for cost-effective solutions that merge security and networking. We are addressing this problem through unified SASE (secure access service edge). This technology combines networking and security capabilities together.

Through contextual security, unified SASE can secure applications in both the cloud and on premises. This is extremely important for enterprises as the majority are now using cloud applications such as Gmail, LinkedIn and Salesforce. Consequently, a significant amount of traffic flows directly from the laptop to the cloud, rendering it vulnerable to cybercriminals if left unprotected. Unified SASE not only ensures that connections are secured, but it also guarantees high connection speeds, thereby keeping users happy.

Sustainability has become a key objective for businesses in recent years. What are your thoughts on how this can be addressed from an IT perspective?

Sustainability is an extremely important issue within the IT industry and one that needs to be addressed by all companies. Businesses should be looking to implement programmes and initiatives that help reduce their environmental impact.

At Versa Networks, we have reduced our environmental impact through waste reduction, as well as conservation and preservation campaigns. However, environmentalism is not just one project or initiative and then forgotten about, but a process that businesses should continually seek to improve.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

The most exciting big tech trend is the development of AI and ML [machine learning]. The introduction of AI has revolutionised the cybersecurity industry and allowed security teams to automate processes. Previously, reacting to cyberthreats was done either manually or with scripts. This ultimately affected security teams’ ability to move quickly and minimise the impact of attacks on the business.

However, thanks to rapid development of AI and machine learning, organisations are able to automate non-critical tasks, allowing them to be more agile and reduce their mean time to innocence (MTTI). When it comes to cyberthreats – particularly ransomware – seconds and minutes are crucial. Being able to react instantaneously and contain a cyberattack can be the difference between a business quickly recovering operationally, financially and reputationally, or never recovering.

By leveraging the right platforms and solutions that are integrated with AI and ML capabilities, enterprises will be able to stay abreast of the threat landscape, protect themselves from bad actors and build infrastructure that will adapt to the changing conditions.

What are your thoughts on how we can address the security challenges currently facing your industry?

Internet of things (IoT) devices have become extremely popular in the enterprise space. These devices have been used to automate processes and increase operational efficiency; however, they also bring plenty of security challenges.

The fundamental issue with IoT devices is that performance and accessibility tend to be prioritised over security. Therefore, when organisations add them to their network, they are not only expanding their attack surface but also providing the perfect entry point for breaches – a dream scenario for threat actors.

Furthermore, hybrid and remote working has resulted in the convergence of employees’ home and work networks. Therefore, IoT devices now serve as the perfect launch pad for cybercriminals to deploy cyberattacks. Malware that breaches a home network can move laterally to the business network and inflict devasting damage on an organisation.

To address this problem, it is essential that organisations gain visibility across all devices and properly segment networks. Technologies such as Zero Trust Everywhere and unified SASE ensure that all endpoints receive the same amount of security coverage and management capabilities. Security teams then gain complete visibility over the entire network and the connected devices to discover hidden security gaps or vulnerable areas of the network.

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