I recently attended the virtual Palo Alto Networks INTERSECT 2023 Network Security Summit. It was a one day event that scrutinized the challenges that security point solution sprawl creates for organizations of all sizes and across many industries. Consolidation is needed to simplify security operations, eliminate blind spots and mitigate vulnerabilities. There are also intrinsic benefits in the growing convergence of security and networking, a subject that I often write about. However, before I jump into my insights tied to the event, I want to start by highlighting the company’s vision and how it serves as a strong foundation for its growing solution portfolio.
Palo Alto Networks Vision
Palo Alto Networks is best known for inventing the first next-generation firewall nearly 20 years ago. A lot has changed since that time, and today, the company offers a broad and deep portfolio that includes SASE, virtual, container and cloud next-generation firewalls and prescriptive industrial and medical IoT security services.
At a high level, Palo Alto Networks is leaning into an end-to-end zero trust architectural philosophy as its portfolio matures, given the highly disaggregated nature of IT infrastructure. The rise of a hybrid workforce, hybrid cloud application development, broad SaaS adoption and the need to secure both information and operational technology environments are placing enormous pressure on past legacy security strategies that can no longer scale. Organizations now demand cross-domain security coverage and AI-infused operations to reduce alert fatigue given expanded threat surfaces across people, places and things – workloads, cloud-native and “lift and shift” applications, users, devices, content and transactions. From my perspective, Palo Alto Networks is delivering on all these fronts.
These challenges also force a convergence of networking and security that promises consolidated management and simplification, improved resiliency, and a complement to developer environments that leverage CI/CD pipelines to accelerate innovation and improve business outcomes. INTERSECT demonstrated the company’s progress in all these areas.
Virtual Conference Highlights and Insights
To no surprise, the theme for INTERSECT was decidedly zero trust. There is a tremendous amount of industry-wide whitewashing around zero trust and AI. Many security infrastructure providers claim capabilities with both, but only some deliver a complete, end-to-end offering. I place Palo Alto Networks with the latter group, given it demonstrates a depth in AIOps and an architectural philosophy rooted in eliminating implicit trust through continuously validating digital interactions.
INTERSECT focused on four best practice sessions highlighting the company’s broad and deep zero trust security capabilities. It included:
- Building a complete zero trust foundation for network security. From my perspective, this is where many organizations falter given the misinformation and zero trust industry whitewashing that exists today. Many security solution providers claim zero trust, but only a handful deliver an end-to-end solution.
- Securing the hybrid workforce and traditional branch with complete zero trust. Modern work is now hybrid as employees work from anywhere and in the office. This scenario presents new challenges from a connectivity and security perspective. The use of VPNs and other legacy tools do not scale nor provide the requisite security controls that are needed today.
- Securing the hybrid cloud with complete zero trust. Modern IT and OT infrastructure and SaaS applications leverage the cloud for scale, resiliency and high availability. However, this presents new challenges with respect to a lack of visibility and security gaps that often materialize in hybrid and multi-cloud environments.
- Securing every connected device spanning IT and OT environments with complete zero trust. Prescriptive solutions that are tailored to workloads and devices, including headless and embedded IoT sensors, will ultimately provide the highest levels of security enabled through policies that prevent authentication to flat networks, eliminating the possibility of malicious lateral movement.
As I spent time in each session, I was reminded of how difficult the security journey is for enterprises, municipalities, schools, government agencies and others. The SD-WAN and SASE market is crowded and difficult to evaluate in support of distributed, modern work. AIOps, although well established as a guiding principle and best practice for network security, is still relatively nascent given the recent attention, and concerns, paid to generative AI and ChatGPT. Operational and information technology environments and the use of cloud principles for scale, sensors, and embedded devices also create new challenges with larger attack surfaces and a generally more porous network. With all this in mind, each INTERSECT session demonstrated what Palo Alto Networks delivers to meet these challenges.
Furthermore, some security solution providers lament the death of the firewall, while others are creating confusion with the extension of zero trust to web browsers and other scenarios that don’t fundamentally validate users and devices within a universal ZTNA framework. INTERSECT went far to cut through this noise and educate its virtual attendees.
Bad actors continue to find new ways to disrupt organizations of all sizes. Just recently, a ransomware attack crippled MGM Resorts on a global basis. The attack lasted nearly ten days, crippling its reservation systems, casino gambling machines and hotel room digital keys. The cost to the casino and resort operator is likely in the tens of millions of dollars, but even worse is the likelihood that it will lose loyal customers given negative experiences. The incident demonstrates that cybersecurity breaches have short and long-term impacts and can potentially destroy brand reputation.
Zero trust is a journey that organizations should embrace to ensure the highest levels of network and security resilience. I continue to be impressed by Palo Alto Networks’ capability to deliver a complete zero trust portfolio with an emphasis on reducing complexity through point solution consolidation. Its platform approach clearly addresses the management complexity and security risks that I previously mentioned, and INTERSECT went far to demonstrate the company’s ability to serve as a trusted security partner with a broad, deep and diverse set of solutions.