Security on the Small (Enterprise) Side

When business IT infrastructure is always under attack, IT security is a competitive advantage. It’s an advantage that larger enterprises have typically held over smaller organizations but a young provider from Europe says that they can bring large enterprise-class security to even very small companies. Serena VM is using the cloud and a virtual SOC to try to level the security playing field.

Serena VM is the relatively new, U.S.-based name of Trovolone, a French company founded by Teodor Chabin, an engineer who based the company’s foundation intellectual property on work he had done for the French military. Jeff Schilling, chief business development officer, is one of the first company executives to work in the U.S. market. I had a chance to talk with him earlier this week and heard about just how Serena VM plans to give small customers the sort of security capabilities that the large enterprise enjoys.

Jeff Schilling of Serena VM

“The secret sauce is that there are over 33 components under the covers with a simple UI,” Schilling said, explaining that security means more than simply a firewall at the perimeter. Customers demand a combination of security tools managed by experts who know what they’re doing. That combination of services on the ground and strong central management is key. “We called Serena ’20 geeks in a box,” said Schilling.

Serena VM is a 2-part solution: Serena VM replaces the in-line firewall, UTM, or other “bumps on a wire” that are most often used for network and application delivery infrastructure security. In most cases, Serena VM will be installed in a cloud deployment, though in specific circumstances it can be installed on customer hardware on-premise. The other part is the Security Operations Center(“Serena Center”) where traffic is monitored and alerts are issued. In many ways, the SOC is the key, because it brings a level of expertise to the Serena VM customer that most smaller enterprises simply can’t afford.

I asked Schilling whether Serena VM has customers for whom they generate daily reports or for whom they allow regular monitor display access to track activity. He said that Serena VM’s relationship with their customers is based on a much different understanding. “We contact the customer when something is noticed in the SOC. At this point we don’t have anyone who has access to look at [regular] activity,” He said. Serena VM’s customers have neither the need nor the interest to keep up with everything that’s happening — they simply want to know that they’re secure while they get on with their regular business.

“The reporting hasn’t been a high request item from customers,” Schilling explained. “Companies just want to work on their stuff and help their clients.” And that statement may be why security has remained much better for large organizations than for small — there’s generally only so much time, energy, and interest to go around.
For better or for worse, though, the business environment is forcing even smaller organizations to pay attention to “extras” like security. Schilling talked about one potential type of customer when he told me, “Ad agencies are losing business because their clients don’t think their IP is secure.” And it’s that question of client IP/customer PII/financial data that’s forcing the issue. Add in the increasing pressure from regulators and insurers and you get the situation where the demand for security can vastly outstrip an organization’s ability to afford and deploy the security solution.
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Serena VM is targeting organizations with 5 – 50 employees. Even at the lower end of that scale, though, there are strictly a business solution with no aspirations for the consumer market. The subscription for charge $10/employee/month. Schilling says that at the time of our discussion pilot projects are out in law firms with 6 – 20 lawyers and architectural offices. “They need security and file encryption but they don’t have the budget or the staff to deal with a robust, multi-layered defense.” In a “ripped from the headlines” story, Schilling told me that the company’s first U.S. customer was the State of Virginia; the IT staff liked being able to temporarily deploy a secure infrastructure to support polling places without having to send a large crew.

Encryption’s Double-Edged Sword

In my last piece for Security Now I wrote about the need to encrypt everything.The reasons for being in favor of encryption are pretty straightforward and have been written about countless times — let’s just say that the bad guys are skilled, plentiful, and probably already in your network. If you want to have any hope of keeping your organization’s data safe, you need to have an encryption protocol in place.

With that said, encryption isn’t without its drawbacks. One of the more important is that encryption can mask malicious payloads as easily as it protects sensitive private data. Typical solutions to the problem include terminating VPN tunnels and un-encrypting data to let it pass through IPS, filter, or firewall appliances, then re-encrypting it before sending it down the wire. That can be a functional approach, but it carries serious performance costs and it adds enormous complication if you’ve decided to embrace micro-segmentation with encryption (and, in theory, security stages) between every component of the application.

That’s why today’s announcement from Cisco is important. The company’s Encrypted Traffic Analytics (ETA) — technology that allows encrypted traffic to be scanned for malicious content without being unencrypted — has been around since mid-2017 in the company’s big campus-level switches. Today, though, Cisco announced that ETA is available on the bulk of its enterprise routing platforms, including branch office routers (the ISR and ASR) and virtual cloud services routers (CSR).

Cisco isn’t alone in noting the importance of scanning and protecting encrypted network traffic. SonicWall has encrypted traffic inspection in its enterprise firewalls. Other vendors, like F5, note the importance of looking into encrypted streams but do so by terminating and inspecting tunnels at high speed.

The announcement today is important for Cisco customers but in the long-term it’s meaningful because it increases the pressure on other infrastructure vendors to develop and include similar capabilities in their switches and routers. There’s no question that encryption is going to become SOP for most organizations. If it’s easier to inspect those encrypted data streams for malicious content (as well as impermissible content heading out of the organization), then the shift to encrypted data will be faster and the benefits will be greater for everyone — except the bad guys.