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How to optimize the security policy management lifecycle


Information security is vital to business continuity. Organizations trust their IT teams to enable innovation and business transformation but need them to safeguard digital assets in the process.

This leads some leaders to feel that their information security policies are standing in the way of innovation and business agility. Instead of rolling new a new enterprise application and provisioning it for full connectivity from the start, security teams demand weeks or months of time to secure those systems before they’re ready.

But this doesn’t mean that cybersecurity is a bottleneck to business agility. The need for speedier deployment doesn’t automatically translate to increased risk.

Organizations that manage application connectivity and network security policies using a structured lifecycle approach can improve security without compromising deployment speed.

Many challenges stand between organizations and their application and network connectivity goals. Understanding each stage of the lifecycle approach to security policy change management is key to overcoming these obstacles.

Challenges to optimizing security policy management


Complex enterprise infrastructure and compliance requirements

A medium-sizded enterprise may have hundreds of servers, systems, and security solutions like firewalls in place. These may be spread across several different cloud providers, with additional inputs from SaaS vendors and other third-party partners.

Add in strict regulatory compliance requirements like HIPAA, and the risk management picture gets much more complicated. Even voluntary frameworks like NIST heavily impact an organization’s information security posture, acceptable use policies, and more – without the added risk of non-compliance.

Before organizations can optimize their approach to security policy management, they must have visibility and control over an increasingly complex landscape. Without this, making meaningful progress of data classification and retention policies is difficult, if not impossible.

Modern workflows involve non-stop change

When information technology teams deploy or modify an application, it’s in response to an identified business need. When those deployments get delayed, there is a real business impact.

IT departments now need to implement security measures earlier, faster, and more comprehensively than they used to. They must conduct risk assessments and security training processes within ever-smaller timeframes, or risk exposing the organization to vulnerabilities and security breaches.

Strong security policies need thousands of custom rules

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for managing access control and data protection at the application level. Different organizations have different security postures and security risk profiles. Compliance requirements can change, leading to new security requirements that demand implementation.

Enterprise organizations that handle sensitive data and adhere to strict compliance rules must severely restrict access to information systems. It’s not easy to achieve PCI DSS compliance or adhere to GDPR security standards solely through automation – at least, not without a dedicated change management platform like AlgoSec.

Effectively managing an enormous volume of custom security rules and authentication policies requires access to scalable security resources under a centralized, well-managed security program. Organizations must ensure their security teams are equipped to enforce data security policies successfully.

Inter-department communication needs improvement

Application deliver managers, network architects, security professionals, and compliance managers must all contribute to the delivery of new application projects. Achieving clear channels of communication between these different groups is no easy task.

In most enterprise environments, these teams speak different technical languages. They draw their data from internally siloed sources, and rarely share comprehensive documentation with one another. In many cases, one or more of these groups are only brought in after everyone else has had their say, which significantly limits the amount of influence they can have.

The lifecycle approach to managing IT security policies can help establish a standardized set of security controls that everyone follows. However, it also requires better communication and security awareness from stakeholders throughout the organization.

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The policy management lifecycle addresses these challenges in five stages


Without a clear security policy management lifecycle in place, most enterprises end up managing security changes on an ad hoc basis. This puts them at a disadvantage, especially when security resources are stretched thin on incident response and disaster recovery initiatives.

Instead of adopting a reactive approach that delays application releases and reduces productivity, organizations can leverage the lifecycle approach to security policy management to address vulnerabilities early in the application development lifecycle. This leaves additional resources available for responding to security incidents, managing security threats, and proactively preventing data breaches.

  • Discover and visualize application connectivity

The first stage of the security policy management lifecycle revolves around mapping how your apps connect to each other and to your network setup. The more details can include in this map, the better prepared your IT team will be for handling the challenges of policy management.

Performing this discovery process manually can cost enterprise-level security teams a great deal of time and accuracy. There may be thousands of devices on the network, with a complex web of connections between them. Any errors that enter the framework at this stage will be amplified through the later stages – it’s important to get things right at this stage.

Automated tools help IT staff improve the speed and accuracy of the discovery and visualization stage. This helps everyone – technical and nontechnical staff included – to understand what apps need to connect and work together properly. Automated tools help translate these needs into language that the rest of the organization can understand, reducing the risk of misconfiguration down the line.

  • Plan and assess security policy changes

Once you have a good understanding of how your apps connect with each other and your network setup, you can plan changes more effectively. You want to make sure these changes will allow the organization’s apps to connect with one another and work together without increasing security risks.

It’s important to adopt a vulnerability-oriented perspective at this stage. You don’t want to accidentally introduce weak spots that hackers can exploit, or establish policies that are too complex for your organization’s employees to follow.

This process usually involves translating application connectivity requests into network operations terms. Your IT team will have to check if the proposed changes are necessary, and predict what the results of implementing those changes might be. This is especially important for cloud-based apps that may change quickly and unpredictably.

At the same time, security teams must evaluate the risks and determine whether the changes are compliant with security policy. Automating these tasks as part of a regular cycle ensures the data is always relevant and saves valuable time.

  • Migrate and deploy changes efficiently

The process of deploying new security rules is complex, time-consuming, and prone to error. It often stretches the capabilities of security teams that already have a wide range of operational security issues to address at any given time. In between managing incident response and regulatory compliance, they must now also manually update thousands of security rules over a fleet of complex network assets.

This process gets a little bit easier when guided by a comprehensive security policy change management framework. But most organizations don’t unlock the true value of the security policy management lifecycle until they adopt automation.

Automated security policy management platforms enable organizations to design rule changes intelligently, migrate rules automatically, and push new policies to firewalls through a zero-touch interface. They can even validate whether the intended changes updated correctly.

This final step is especially important. Without it, security teams must manually verify whether their new policies successfully address the vulnerabilities the way they’re supposed to. This doesn’t always happen, leaving security teams with a false sense of security.

  • Maintain configurations using templates

Most firewalls accumulate thousands of rules as security teams update them against new threats. Many of these rules become outdated and obsolete over time, but remain in place nonetheless.

This adds a great deal of complexity to small-scale tasks like change management, troubleshooting issues, and compliance auditing. It can also impact the performance of firewall hardware, which decreases the overall lifespan of expensive physical equipment.

Configuration changes and maintenance should include processes for identifying and eliminating rules that are redundant, misconfigured, or obsolete. The cleaner and better-documented the organization’s rulesets are, the easier subsequent configuration changes will be.

Rule templates provide a simple solution to this problem. Organizations that create and maintain comprehensive templates for their current firewall rulesets can easily modify, update, and change those rules without having to painstakingly review and update individual devices manually.

  • Decommission obsolete applications completely

Every business application will eventually reach the end of its lifecycle. However, many organizations keep decommissioned security policies in place for one of two reasons:

  • Oversight that stems from unstandardized or poorly documented processes, or;
  • Fear that removing policies will negatively impact other, active applications.

As these obsolete security policies pile up, they force the organization to spend more time and resources updating their firewall rulesets. This adds bloat to firewall security processes, and increases the risk of misconfigurations that can lead to cyber attacks.

A standardized, lifecycle-centric approach to security policy management makes space for the structured decommissioning of obsolete applications and the rules that apply to them. This improves change management and ensures the organization’s security posture is optimally suited for later changes.

At the same time, it provides comprehensive visibility that reduces oversight risks and gives security teams fewer unknowns to fear when decommissioning obsolete applications.

Many organizations believe that Security stands in the way of the business – particularly when it comes to changing or provisioning connectivity for applications. It can take weeks, or even months to ensure that all the servers, devices, and network segments that support the application can communicate with each other while blocking access to hackers and unauthorized users.  It’s a complex and intricate process.

This is because, for every single application update or change, Networking and Security teams need to understand how it will affect the information flows between the various firewalls and servers the application relies on, and then change connectivity rules and security policies to ensure that only legitimate traffic is allowed, without creating security gaps or compliance violations.

As a result, many enterprises manage security changes on an ad-hoc basis:  they move quickly to address the immediate needs of high-profile applications or to resolve critical threats, but have little time left over to maintain network maps, document security policies, or analyze the impact of rule changes on applications.

This reactive approach delays application releases, can cause outages and lost productivity, increases the risk of security breaches and puts the brakes on business agility. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Nor is it necessary for businesses to accept greater security risk to satisfy the demand for speed.

Accelerating agility without sacrificing security

The solution is to manage application connectivity and network security policies through a structured lifecycle methodology, which ensures that the right security policy management activities are performed in the right order, through an automated, repeatable process.  This dramatically speeds up application connectivity provisioning and improves business agility, without sacrificing security and compliance.

So, what is the network security policy management lifecycle, and how should network and security teams implement a lifecycle approach in their organizations?

  1. Discover and visualize

The first stage involves creating an accurate, real-time map of application connectivity and the network topology across the entire organization, including on-premise, cloud, and software-defined environments. Without this information, IT staff are essentially working blind, and will inevitably make mistakes and encounter problems down the line.

Security policy management solutions can automate the application connectivity discovery, mapping, and documentation processes across the thousands of devices on networks – a task that is enormously time-consuming and labor-intensive if done manually.  In addition, the mapping process can help business and technical groups develop a shared understanding of application connectivity requirements. 

  1. Plan and assess

Once there is a clear picture of application connectivity and the network infrastructure, you can start to plan changes more effectively – ensure that proposed changes will provide the required connectivity, while minimizing the risks of introducing vulnerabilities, causing application outages, or compliance violations.

Typically, it involves translating application connectivity requests into networking terminology, analyzing the network topology to determine if the changes are really needed, conducting an impact analysis of proposed rule changes (particularly valuable with unpredictable cloud-based applications), performing a risk and compliance assessment, and assessing inputs from vulnerabilities scanners and SIEM solutions.  Automating these activities as part of a structured lifecycle keeps data up-to-date, saves time, and ensures that these critical steps are not omitted – helping avoid configuration errors and outages. Functions Of An Automatic Pool Cleaner An automatic pool cleaner is very useful for people who have a bad back and find it hard to manually operate the pool cleaner throughout the pool area. This type of pool cleaner can move along the various areas of a pool automatically. Its main function is to suck up dirt and other debris in the pool. It functions as a vacuum. Automatic pool cleaners may also come in different types and styles. These include automatic pressure-driven cleaners, automatic suction side-drive cleaners, and robotic pool cleaners.

  1. Migrate and deploy

Deploying connectivity and security rules can be a labor-intensive and error-prone process.  Security policy management solutions automate the critical tasks involved, including designing rule changes intelligently, automatically migrating rules, and pushing policies to firewalls and other security devices – all with zero-touch if no problems or exceptions are detected.  Crucially, the solution can also validate that the intended changes have been implemented correctly.  This last step is often neglected, creating the false impression that application connectivity has been provided, or that vulnerabilities have been removed, when in fact there are time bombs ticking in the network.

  1. Maintain

Most firewalls accumulate thousands of rules which become outdated or obsolete over the years.  Bloated rulesets not only add complexity to daily tasks such as change management, troubleshooting and auditing, but they can also impact the performance of firewall appliances, resulting in decreased hardware lifespan and increased TCO.

Cleaning up and optimizing security policies on an ongoing basis can prevent these problems.  This includes identifying and eliminating or consolidating redundant and conflicting rules; tightening overly permissive rules; reordering rules; and recertifying expired ones. A clean, well-documented set of security rules helps to prevent business application outages, compliance violations, and security gaps and reduces management time and effort.

  1. Decommission

Every business application eventually reaches the end of its life:  but when they are decommissioned, its security policies are often left in place, either by oversight or from fear that removing policies could negatively affect active business applications. These obsolete or redundant security policies increase the enterprise’s attack surface and add bloat to the firewall ruleset.

The lifecycle approach reduces these risks.  It provides a structured and automated process for identifying and safely removing redundant rules as soon as applications are decommissioned while verifying that their removal will not impact active applications or create compliance violations.

We recently published a white paper that explains the five stages of the security policy management lifecycle in detail. It’s a great primer for any organization looking to move away from a reactive, fire-fighting response to security challenges, to an approach that addresses the challenges of balancing security and risk with business agility.  Download your copy here.

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