Workflows: from Sec and Ops to SecOps
Even mature organizations occasionally struggle to keep security aligned with infrastructure. But low-friction processes that don’t overly burden other areas of the enterprise reduce both errors and deliberate circumvention.
Frequently the problem manifests as a lack of communication between network security and network operations. Not out of antagonism but simply due to different priorities, toolsets, and issues to manage on a day to day basis. A seemingly minor routing change, or the addition of a new server, can quietly expose the organization to new risks if security defenses aren’t coordinated. On the other hand, security can easily break things and create an operational incident with a single firewall rule change.
Efficient programs don’t just divide up operational responsibilities – they implement workflows where each team does what they are best at, while still communicating cleanly and effectively to each other. Here are examples of four integrated operations workflows:
- Network topology changes: Changes to the topology of the network have a dramatic impact on the configuration of security tools. The workflow consists of two tracks – approved changes and detected changes. For approved changes the network team defines the change and submits it to security for review. Security analyzes it for impact, including any risk changes and required security updates. Security then approves the change for operations to implement. Some organizations even have network operations manage basic security changes – mostly firewall rule updates. A detected change goes through the same analysis process but may require an emergency fix or communications with the network team to roll back the change (and obviously requires ongoing monitoring for detection in the first place). In both cases it can be helpful to integrate the process into your change management or workflow tool to automatically route tasks.
- Business exemption or change requests: Occasionally a business unit will need a change to network security. Many of these come through network operations, but quite a few come from application teams or business units themselves for particular projects. The same basic process is followed – the change request comes in, is analyzed for risks and required changes, and then approved, implemented, and validated. As before, you also should plan to monitor for and manage unapproved changes, which is where application-aware monitoring is particularly helpful. Also, consider making a portal for business units to submit and track requests, rather than handling through email or spreadsheets.
- New assets and applications: Similar to a business exemption or change request, but focused on new projects and assets rather than creating a special exemption to existing policy. There may be more planning, earlier in the process, with a lot more people involved. Develop a two-track process – one for new applications or assets that are fairly standard (e.g., a business unit file server or basic web application) which can be more automated, and a second for larger programs such as major new applications.
- New security tools or policy changes: Adding a new security tool or policy change reverses the workflow, so the responsibility is now on the security team to initiate communications with network operations and other affected teams. Security should first analyze the change and potential downstream impacts, then work with teams to determine operational risks, timelines, and any other requirements.
Network security management isn’t easy, but there are more and less efficient ways to handle it. Knowing your posture and maintaining visibility are key, as are developing core workflows to bridge gaps between different operational teams. Network security operations monitors the environment and change requests to adapt the security posture as needed in a timely manner. It monitors for changes that slip through outside approved processes, develops workflows to handle the unexpected, and responds quickly when changes are requested to support other business areas. Finally, network security understands that security policy changes impact other operations, along with the need to analyze and communicate these potential implications.
It is not always easy, but it is far more efficient and effective than the alternatives, and frees up the security team to focus on what they are best at.