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Living (safely) on the Edge

By , ITWeb
Africa , 05 Jun 2019

Living (safely) on the Edge

Edge computing is gaining momentum, and it isn't hard to see why.

With data processed at the edge of the network, new connective routes to reduced network latency, increased bandwidth, and significantly faster response times are starting to emerge.

That is, of course, if all the necessary security controls are in place.

A decision to deploy applications at the edge should not be taken lightly or seen as a simple extension of cloud computing.

One of the biggest mistakes is to assume traditional security controls such as firewalls are enough.

The reality is very different. With edge computing, the application and its data, are distributed across multiple locations, markedly increasing potential threat surfaces. Edge nodes may no longer be deployed in secure, central locations, making them more vulnerable to physical access.

In addition to stateful network firewalls, edge computing unavoidably necessitates robust application layer security such as a web-application firewall (WAF). Fundamentally, it is crucial to deliver the right protection models wherever applications reside.

Edging ahead

The importance of alighting an optimal security posture will only grow as more and more compelling edge computing use cases come online.

The manufacturing sector is a good example and gives us a glimpse of both the technology's scope and risk severity.

An automated, smart data-led approach to manufacturing is now becoming commonplace, enabling real-time insights for rapid decision-making in mission-critical scenarios – particularly for robotics or AI-powered devices. In this scenario, the dangers of a breach can be extreme; a hacker could reprogram machine learning algorithms to gain destructive control of a factory's robotics. Service providers play a key role in future-proofing industrial processes, so they must ensure they provide robust, multi-layered security firewalls that can be adapted as quickly as the changing threat landscape.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) applications are also enthusiastically incorporating edge computing capabilities, harnessing the inevitable benefits of rapid responsivity in the face of high-bandwidth usage. However, if security measures aren't up to scratch, hackers could soon take over the screens and transform an immersive experience to a living nightmare for both user and provider.

Yet, while risks clearly abound, the promises of edge computing outweigh its possible disadvantages.

In principle, edge computing can even simplify security management because it can deliver more clarity on where data originates and where it is going. Traditionally, everything goes to a central data centre or cloud system where it is harder to monitor and protect as traffic volumes soar. Edge servers, on the other hand, can offload computing tasks from connected devices by caching information like a private cloud, and data can be accessed locally.

In addition to application-layer security solutions, it is essential to invest in automation. Otherwise, it is impossible to ensure consistent security policies are deployed across a distributed edge computing architecture. For instance, if an application is deployed or deleted in an edge computing location, the appropriate network and security controls can be automatically deployed.

Due to the diffuse nature of distributed automation, organisations and service providers operating network and computing infrastructures also need to make sure their control interfaces are protected with the right Application Programming Interface (API) security solutions.

As ever, decision-makers need to avoid jumping in with both feet before understanding what they want, how to get there, and how to protect themselves at every possible juncture. The tools and solutions to do so are here – they just need to be deployed with incision.

By Simon McCullough, Major Account Manager, F5 Networks.

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