The devastation caused by last year’s WannaCry ransomware attack on the NHS highlights the accelerating risk posed by malware.

Cyber attackers are relentless, are looking to find their way into data and networks any which way they can, and will target anyone – consumers, small businesses and large enterprises alike. Indeed, research published earlier this year found that 3 million British businesses were compromised by cyberattacks in 2016.

In this era of ever persistent threat, network security is now a top must have. But while enterprise grade firewalls and server security are all well and good, hackers will typically focus their attention on ‘endpoints’ which often sit outside the control of the corporate network – laptops, smartphones, printers and even WiFi connected CCTV cameras.

Dealing with an increasingly connected world

With employees relying on mobile devices and home computers and laptops to connect to company networks to conduct business, a centralised security solution is no longer adequate for what is an ever-shifting and undefinable security perimeter.

Endpoint security – the process of securing various endpoints on a network – is becoming vital to prevent data loss and more. No easy task when you consider how bring-your-own-device (BOYD) policies translate into increased risk for businesses of all sizes – opening the door to cyber attackers and other unwelcome onlookers using potentially compromised devices to penetrate the network.

Factor in the growing prevalence of Internet-of-Things connected devices – like that ‘smart’ fridge in your office kitchen – and you could be dealing with thousands of endpoint devices accessing the network at any given moment.

These endpoints offer attackers juicy opportunities to bypass other defences designed to keep them out – firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, or other security controls.

For businesses operating public ‘open’ Wi-Fi networks – like airports, convention centres, retail outlets or restaurants – the risks of ‘guests’ unintentionally infecting their primary network with malware or viruses increases exponentially.

What’s more, these businesses know that, for reputational damage control reasons, it’s also vital to ensure that guests connecting to their WiFi are protected from potential infiltration too.

Protect the network, protect users – defend your data

Digital transformation means what’s needed is a different approach. One that makes it easy to centrally manage and secure access to the enterprise network – and identify, contain and remediate threats faster.

Because if you can’t see all users, devices and traffic on your network, then securing the network is going to get a lot tougher.

Cisco’s Identity Services Engine (ISE) can turn the network into a sensor and enforcer. As well as providing full visibility and control of users and device on the network, ISE lets you define how users, devices and systems can talk to others – enabling you to raise the ‘network drawbridges’ to protect critical data and maintain essential services. So, in the event of an identified real-time threat you can set up policies that automatically kick all guests or BYOD users off the network, or restrict peer-to-peer traffic.

ISE helps you understand who, what, where, when and how someone or something is attaching to the network. This enables you first, decide whether that user or device should be allowed on the network. And second, what they should have access to.

All of which enables you to have a policy-based approach to defining access privileges. For example, now you can define that a mortgage broker on a corporate device can access financially regulated applications, while an enterprise IoT device – like a badge reader or that carpark CCTV camera – cannot.

What’s more, smart networks are utilising machine-learning and behavioural modelling to sense suspicious activity and outsmart emerging threats before these get out of hand. So, if an endpoint device starts behaving in a way that’s out of the norm – you get instant alerts on policy violations and compromised devices in real time.