More and more businesses are entering the cloud, which brings with it new security challenges. Danessa Lambdin, AT&T's vice president of Cybersecurity Solutions, said that managing risks in today's environment calls for a multi-layered approach that secures data at the endpoint, in transit and in applications.
In this Q&A, Lambdin recently spoke to Telco Transformation about AT&T's approach to securing its own network while also meeting the particular needs of its customers to balance security, performance and reliability in an economical way.
Lambdin said there's no one-size-fits-all solution or system, as each must be tailored to the customer's specific risk situation. What AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) brings to the table on the security front is the benefit of the lessons learned from its own virtualization efforts as well as its own cybersecurity products and services.
Telco Transformation: With security breaches constantly in the news and the increasing number of connection points opened up by IoT, as well as the increasing amount of data that businesses access in the cloud, is security considered a greater priority than it has been in the past?
Danessa Lambdin: It's truly interesting when we think of the volume in the news today around breaches and how much is spent on security products and services. IDC forecasts that close to $120 billion will be spent by 2021. For this year alone it's expected to top $83 billion, which represents more than a 10% increase year-over-year. That kind of money shows that security is an area that is really active. Also we are seeing a dynamic networking evolution that certainly has had an impact because of the attention on the threat to security landscape, which is a big driving force behind this growth. The bigger the breaches get, the more regulation we see.
TT: In what way does AT&T draw on what it's doing to help its customers move to and improve security in the cloud?
DL: It's an evolution. AT&T's own network has evolved with cloud technology to the point that we are more than 80% in the cloud today. We know what it takes to connect users to get what they need done, and that often that entails working in the cloud. The demands of economics are pushing cloud adoption. In any industry you have to control your costs, and the cloud gives you that. We have to help our customers get there so that they can stay competitive.
Traditional hardware can't scale economically. Doing what is necessary to secure perimeters or make any necessary changes costs time and money. In contrast, a software-centric setup has the ability to move faster, which helps customers. As transformations take place, security solutions move there, which helps customers be more nimble. As we are doing this ourselves, we are helping our customers do it, too. It goes hand-in-hand.
We are in the middle of a major digital transformation ourselves, moving to a software-defined network. That means that we are going through some of the same changes our customers are going through and and we're pioneering some of these thing internally. In that we have insightful perspective that we can bring to our customers as we help them move to the cloud. That includes drawing on our world-class CSO [chief security office] to design security solutions not only for our own use and also for our customers.
Virtualization of security allows customers to move faster when threats are recognized. In the past, fixing such security issues required sending people out to the particular place, but they can't solve the problem with just the push of a button. Se we are actually speeding up the ability to protect our customers.
TT: Are you able to go beyond a fast response to address a security problem with a predictive approach that identifies an issue before a breach occurs?
DL: Our threat management platform is very proactive. It gives us the ability to recognize data patterns across our whole network, which carries 150 petabytes of data each day. We can look at about 5 billion security events every ten minutes. We have data scientists come in and write smart algorithms for that data so that they can be effectively assessed in real time. We are constantly monitoring and providing customers with information about point of vulnerability and what they need to do to protect themselves.
For customers it all comes down to operational relevance: What does this mean to them and what do they need to do? Without their own team of data scientists, that would be very hard to do. That's why one of the things that we bring together with our threat management platform is operational relevance to the customer.
TT: What are some the primary security concerns of AT&T's customers? Do you offer them specific solutions of general guidelines for best practices?
DL: Customers are very open to conversations around how they can better secure their business. They read the news like we all do, and they do not want to be in the newspaper -- not for that anyway.
Because they see all these breaches reported on the news, the customers' primary concern is "I don't know what I don't know." It's possible to have a vulnerability exploited for months that customer didn't even know was there. That's what scares them the most. They want to increase visibility into their networks and identify their points of vulnerability.
To help them with that, AT&T offers a comprehensive cybersecurity consulting service. Our team doesn't come in to sell them on a particular product but to assess risk tolerance and risk exposure, as well as what they're willing to spend to knit together the right solutions that line up with their position. There is not one cookie-cutter approach for all. If you are in healthcare, for example, you have different compliance issues in place than if you are in the retail industry.
Assessing risk position is the first step, and then you are able to build out what you need to do to secure end point, the network and where you are storing your data, whether that is in the cloud or on the premises. The primary goal is to educate the customers to understand what's in front of them and to direct them to the solutions that meet their needs. It's possible to get point solutions from many sources, but if you don't understand the framework, you don't know which you should buy. It takes a comprehensive approach to find the right solution.
We help our customers really understand how to support their security objectives in a multi-layered approach. For security to work, it has to be applied across the three primary pillars: that is at the endpoint, in transit and in application.
TT: Generally, people have to consider which balance they want to strike in terms of flexibility and ease of access with security, all weighed against budgetary constraints. Do you think that we will advance to the point where it will no longer be necessary to compromise on one of the areas?
DL: I think that we've actually moved beyond that point. It's less about compromise and more about getting the solution that is right for the customer. It is possible to tailor cybersecurity to their exact needs to get them the solution that is right for them rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach. You have to take into account what your customers need, what they are trying to accomplish and how best protect them. You can't do that if you don't understand their risk tolerance and risk exposure. You must know those two to do that.
TT: What role does SD-WAN play in the balance of security and access?
DL: It makes hybrid networking possible. This gives businesses the ability to put in solutions that are tailored to their needs for balancing security, performance and reliability in an economical way. It is not a question of either/or but of working out the way to achieve both according to the customer's particular needs. A lot of our customers went into business to serve their customers but not to manage networks. That is what we have to do for them: we have to make their network management easier and to do in a secure way.
TT: Does AT&T offer any particular security advantage?
DL: We are very proud of the CSO team, which is an incredible internal organization. It not only protects the AT&T enterprise but gives us the unique opportunity to leverage our experience in building up our own security in designing solutions for customers. That is a tremendous resource that helps us understand problems and solutions that we put into effect internally. On that basis, we are able to offer our business customers proof of concept that demonstrate how the solution worked for us.
— Ariella Brown, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation