Network Security Challenges in 2021

Network security can no longer answer challenges with a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Here are 3 key trends security experts need to solve in 2021.

Jan 27th, 2021

Network security

Never did the world wait for the end of a year as they did for 2020, hoping for something good to happen in the New Year. Hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in the last year, our fast-paced world suddenly came to an almost standstill. Every industry, every business had to realign business strategies and work processes. Including, and especially, network security.

As business networks moved from the protective bubble of hardened corporate locations to the more lax and largely unsupervised work-from-home environments, security administrators had a tough time keeping up with the multitude of diverse endpoints.

Although we hope for the pandemic to end, we'll likely never "go back" and instead create a 'new normal'. In other words, 2021 is not going to be much different, bringing permanent changes to challenge the network security landscape.

Here are three key obstacles corporate network administrators will face:

1. Work-From-Home Network Vulnerabilities

Work-from-home environments are not new. However, the worldwide pandemic has forced many businesses to hurriedly adopt work-from-home practices in 2020 with little to no regard to the challenges they present in both security and operability. When organizational data moves out of corporate security purview, it brings a multi-fold challenge to network and security professionals. Employees focused on their own productivity and little knowledge of the security implications, use public networks and personal devices that may not be secure, and in a way that creates data vulnerability. Device loss or theft adds up to this challenge.

Even as the pandemic winds down, users have become and will stay an integral part of the organization's network security infrastructure. Some don't understand the severity of cyber threats. Some don't care about it. Organizations need to train their employees in security best practices, create procedures that cannot be bypassed, and consider the BYOD and WFH realities.

2. 5G Revolution brings (even more) numerous IoT endpoints

With 5G technology entering the commercial markets, the already explosively growing number of IoT connections rapidly increased in recent times. With no end in sight, service providers across the globe are heavily investing in IoT. The year 2021 will experience billions of devices transmitting high-quality streaming data at lightning speeds and low-latencies. GSMA reports that 5G connections will touch 1.8 billion by 2025. And over 90% of it is still unencrypted.

5G connectivity challenges our traditional understanding and deployment of DNS, the same way IoT's ever-hungry number of devices put pressure on businesses to adopt IPv6. 5G allows network slicing wherein multiplexed logical and virtual networks run on a single physical network infrastructure, creating network spaces where none (or only one) have existed before. The increased usage of software-defined virtualized networks further augments this architecture.

To increase network performance, optimize resources, and take better advantage of 5G, mobile service providers are increasingly exploring network edge computing. To automate, optimize and manage edge computing networks, organizations need to implement new stacks of technologies and wrestle with a myriad of APIs connecting multiple application frameworks. Managing and securing this complex infrastructure is a formidable challenge for network security teams.

3. AI-supported Attacks

Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms have been both a boon and bane for businesses. As much as they revolutionized nearly every industry, they can also become a dangerous tool when used for malicious purposes. And even when not, young technologies are always less secure than their tried-and-tested older peers.

New challenges in this area including sophisticated AI-powered bots that learn from data and proactively change their attack strategies and targets without getting caught. (Take a look at the recent Sunburst/Supernova incidents, which included more sophisticated evasion techniques.) Malware powered by AI can quickly and intelligently run across the system, altering its communication systems and network protocols.

For network administrators, and especially those managing the DNS, DHCP, and IPAM (DDI) infrastructure, this means increased pressure on removing single points of failure and leveraging redundancy across multiple platforms.

In our world both powered and challenged by technologies such as 5G and AI, dependent on enormous cloud networks and needing to move services to the edge, and demanding to be more flexible and agile regardless of location, a 'one size fits all' security paradigm doesn't work anymore. Organizations need to proactively monitor changing cybersecurity trends, implement customized network security controls and the ability to change them when needed flexibly, and move network data freely across services and platforms to stay in the competition. Or in business at all.