Network Security for Financial Organizations

IT departments within financial institutions face two major network security-related challenges while working to serve their customers:

  1. Regulatory compliance, and

  2. The constant demand to improve their services in order to successfully compete in the market.

Meeting the first of these challenges has become increasingly complex in recent years, as the number of regulations that financial institutions are required to uphold has significantly increased. From GBLA to SOX and PCI-DSS, these regulations require considerable effort to maintain, especially in terms of network security.

At the same time, the demand for innovation coupled with competition from agile and disruptive FinTech companies has put considerable pressure on established financial institutions to change and improve the way they interact with their customers. The end result is that meeting the demand to deliver new services while ensuring that networks and applications remain secure and compliant is increasingly challenging.

The security bottleneck

This is compounded by the fact that the typical financial organization has a complex network environment, with a large number of firewalls and network security devices – usually from multiple vendors.

Furthermore, security teams often still rely on slow, manual, error-prone processes to make the necessary network security changes to support new applications or their audit requirements. As a result, IT security is often perceived as being a bottleneck to progress, delaying the release of new features to market.

If financial institutions want to release the ‘security brakes’ on business innovation while ensuring they remain protected and meet their ever-increasing compliance demands, their IT security teams need to take a new approach to planning and implementing the network security changes that enable the delivery of new applications and services to market while ensuring compliance.

Visibility is key

To do this, they need to have holistic visibility of security across their network environments, and the ability to manage all of their diverse security controls from a single console. They must also be able to apply security policies consistently across the entire environment without having to duplicate efforts or use error-prone, inefficient manual processes.

To achieve this visibility, organizations first need to identify all the applications that support customer transactions and manage customer information. Automation tools can handle this process, by discovering and mapping the connectivity flows for all of the enterprise’s business applications. This will show IT and security staff exactly how data flows across the network, and help to expose any gaps and risks in the organization’s overall network security posture.

As rolling out new services usually requires changes to, or the addition of network connectivity and the security policies that support it, this visibility also enables teams to know exactly what devices and connectivity each application relies upon in order to function correctly.

Furthermore, during the discovery and mapping process, applications can be classified based on the regulations that apply to them, such as PCI for applications that manage cardholder information. This will help streamline the auditing process when assessing and demonstrating regulatory compliance.

Streamlining change processes

The next step is to streamline and improve the security policy change management process.

Again, a network security policy management solution addresses this by automating the entire change management process from request through to definition and implementation, enabling any changes to be rolled out to all relevant security devices with zero touches (unless pre-determined exceptions occur).

Furthermore, the automation solution will proactively perform risk analysis on any planned application connectivity or security policy changes before they are made, to ensure that they don’t introduce security gaps or compliance violations. The solution will also automatically document all these changes for audit purposes – and to help demonstrate continuous compliance with the relevant regulatory standards.

Releasing the brakes

If financial institutions are to continue to meet their compliance requirements and keep pace with the demands of its customers for new, innovative ways to access services, they must release the security handbrake on their organizations. Automation of network security management processes helps streamline the auditing process, ensures continuous compliance as well as significantly simplifies and speeds up the process of making network security changes.

This enables security teams to focus on responding to and supporting the business’ requests quickly, accelerating the secure delivery of technological innovations. In other words, automation transforms security from a business inhibitor into a key strategic asset that can support and drive the needs of the organization.