Branch office security resolved

September 2010 Information Security

Branch office security does not have to be a cost guzzler.

When it comes to IT security, almost all businesses using IP networks to transmit data will know that they have to protect themselves and they will have systems in place to keep their data secure. However, this is often focused at the head office.

For workers that are not located at the central office, whether this is a branch office environment or a remote worker at home, the question of security is a harder one to answer. It also affects IT security thinking in general, how should I keep these remote locations secure and what problems are there around managing this?

Support and security of such branch office environments can be a significant challenge if not approached correctly. The two primary challenges are implementing business policies and managing branch office IT.

The first area to consider is how to manage many branch networks efficiently. Because each branch office is small, it will typically not have any on-site IT staff available to support users if something goes wrong. The emphasis therefore has to be on how the central IT department can provide this support and security.

The typical branch office environment often needs the same functionality as the head office when it comes to security, a firewall, VPN, IPS, Web and e-mail security are all just as important to remote workers as those at headquarters. For the central IT team, committing human resources to an implementation or upgrade can be very expensive, especially when dealing with multiple offices.

If you are starting a new branch office, being able to control and manage an update to security systems centrally, without having to put an engineer on the road for several days, provides a far better return on investment and much lower costs. Pre-configuring each system at the head office is one approach, but in most cases adjustments must be made on-site. This leads to a different configuration in each location, which makes it hard to keep track. Dedicated solutions for central management exist, but are expensive and often very complex.

Another approach to solve this problem is to use a kind of thin client approach for security. Instead of running firewall, VPN, IPS, Web and e-mail security functions on an expensive branch office device all functions are provided via a centralised security gateway which can sit in the head office or in the cloud. A small remote Ethernet device in the branch office only forwards all traffic to the central device where it is scanned and filtered, before it is sent to the Internet.

Another point to consider around IT usage policies is that bandwidth at the branch office may be more limited. Branch office environments tend to be smaller, so typically the Internet connection into the building will be smaller; there may also be only one network connection into the site. This may mean that rules on site access and surfing may have to be stricter, to ensure that all the bandwidth available is being used for business purposes and that the central IT team is able to support users properly.

For more information contact Biodata IT South Africa, +27 (0)11 234 3650, www.biodata.co.za





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