The principles of cyber security architecture are indeed similar to IT architecture. Networks are only going to expand, technology will evolve, and one constant question on every organisation’s mind is “How to ensure the protection of our assets?”. This concern is further heightened in companies whose services are mainly digitised, accounting for over 60% of UK businesses.
What was planned for years to come, COVID-19, has pushed digital transformation exponentially to compensate for physical interaction limitations. With more businesses using online services, sharing data between team members and partners on the cloud, and selling across online channels, exposure to security threats is unavoidable.
With the advancement in software technologies comes a rise in the abilities of threat actors. The threats posed by these attackers makes it necessary for businesses to invest in cyber security infrastructure. The advantages of cyber security measures in an organisation far outweigh the short-term pains of implementation and initial friction.
So Cyber security in a nutshell…
refers to designing and maintaining devices, including computers and phones, across networks, against malicious attacks or unauthorised access. Cyber security focuses on protecting people, processes and technology from unauthorised access via different types of attacks.
Security architecture is the design of systems within which these processes thrive. If you find the term too technical, here’s a quick and easy description.
What is cybersecurity architecture?
Security architecture, also known as cyber security architecture or network security architecture, is defined as:
The practice of designing computer systems to ensure the security of underlying data.
An architect of physical buildings has the same job description as a network security architect – albeit the latter’s digital results. Security architects design cyber security solutions to test designs to determine which ones work best in supporting each business’s goal. They are responsible for monitoring these systems’ implementation, ensuring they meet the organisation’s key network security requirements while meeting business goals.
To view a concise version of this article, we invite you to watch our video on the same topic.
Security architecture is the foundation of any organisation’s defence against cyber breaches. These security techniques, services and technologies are designed to protect an organisation’s IT infrastructure and devices while ensuring business operations run smoothly.
A one-size-fits-all approach to cyber security is practically impossible as different businesses have varied and unique requirements. Security architects consult with businesses to understand how they run, their target audience, services, and data processing. Architects also consider how the company interacts with clients holistically to arrive at a fitting security solution.
An ideal security architecture should be flexible enough to adapt and provide security coverage for businesses despite the continuously evolving cyber threat domain.
Versatile security networks are salient as organisations extend services beyond traditional confines and engage in digital expansion campaigns. Virtual breaches have cost organisations almost £3 million, as reported by IBM (rights reserved). These staggering figures emphasise businesses’ need to sharpen their cloud controls and secure their assets from digital compromise.
In recent years, many security architecture technologies favour a ‘Zero Trust’ model. This stringent security model, also known as perimeter less security, calls on verifying every request irrespective of whether the systems are inside or outside the perimeter. This framework’s ideology holds as studies show that many attacks were carried out from within the network. Using access control and establishing several checkpoints within a network will limit exposure to malware infiltration.
While businesses can build simple network security systems independently, many do not possess the necessary technologies to effectively manage their cyber security risks. Over 50% of UK organisations outsource their security needs to experts. As this is a fundamental step while creating new or implementing improved architectures, businesses must seek help in secure architecture designs and reviews.
Understanding the offensive side first
As a cyber security architect, it is critical to understand how a system is compromised. This involves understanding the technicalities behind every phase of a cyber kill chain, how vulnerabilities are identified and exploited to disrupt systems. This provides invaluable input into how a system should be designed with a security mindset.
Cyber security architect does not provide just a piece of advice but initiates action on design, development and implementation areas ensuring effective cyber security for the organisation. The role of a cyber security architect combines a range of activities:
- Solid understanding of business objectives
- Communication skills to liaise with different audiences inside and outside the business. It involves stakeholders, different internal departments such as development teams, IT architecture and implementation, and external vendors.
- Identifying, researching and solving various security problems within the business that are systemic or part of traditional setups
- Advising technical leadership on security as part of strategic initiatives
What are the elements of cyber security architecture?
Security architects need to know how threat actors attack a potential target to establish if a network is difficult to compromise. To do this, architects must have a good understanding of their organisations’ processes and business objectives. They have to understand how vulnerabilities occur and how threat actors exploit them.
If a system is easily prone to cyber attacks, it may need to be redesigned, restructured or configured differently to reduce the data breach risk.
That said, we can establish some general requirements of an effective security architecture. It consists of three major components:
- The People – They establish security objectives and identify business drivers.
- The Processes – These determine the security techniques and principles that best suits the business based on a Needs assessment.
- The Tools – The architectural framework developed to suit business goals and objectives.
Enshrined in the company policy, these components must protect the organisation’s assets from cyber threats. This way, security architectures help the management ensure that decision-making is consistent throughout the entire IT sphere. The architecture must be strategically designed and implemented in a way that supports business goals.
We can further break down the components into four critical areas of focus. To ensure best practices, these should form parts of meticulous security architectures and should be evaluated periodically. They are:
Company policy regulations
Businesses should implement a useful network security framework based on some stipulated company policies. These policies or procedures should;
- Detail and transmit corporate’s goals and intentions for the architecture.
- Reinforce and align with operational policies (e.g., policies targeted at ensuring a smooth customer experience).
- Identify the purpose and scope of the security infrastructure.
- Clarify the organisation’s position on laws, regulations, and privacy standards (e.g., GDPR compliance).
These policies should also establish;
- i) Standards stipulate the company’s expectations on each security mechanism and service, such as the firewall model or the particular antivirus software being used.
- ii) Procedures that give detailed instructions on actions to be performed to complete specific tasks, such as user registration.
iii) Guidelines that state general items or approaches to be considered, such as the assessment criteria of services or governmental recommendations.
Implementing these components is key to ensuring company security standards & access control are adhered to in all business processes. Making it easier for the organisation to monitor its security controls.
User identity control
Identity control is an integrated system of an organisation’s processes and technologies that enables employees to use resources within the network and in the cloud.
Clear security roles should be established for all company network users as part of the identity control system. Security architecture users often include:
- i) Executive managers who chart corporate strategy and monitor company goals.
- ii) The security and IT employees are accountable for the daily operation, maintenance and monitoring of the security system and cloud database.
iii) The end-users, employees and data owners who use the company’s IT applications on a day-to-day basis.
Critical roles will be identified and established depending on the corporate body’s structure and the level of importance associated with each job function when getting to the nitty-gritty.
Access control is a crucial element of security architecture. Access to IT and business assets should be constrained through layers, going from public access to discrete access.
Security controls should be enacted at network borders allowing only business partners and employees with clearance to come through. This security measure is sufficient for many organisations to control access using modern cloud security controls such as CASB security. Should you wish to understand it further, we have covered this topic in detail: access control security.
Inside a company’s network, access to various services should be restricted based on a need-to-know basis. A useful concept related to this is the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP), which states that users should have the least access and authority needed to perform their required job tasks. PoLP is considered a cyber security best practice that helps reduce the likelihood and impact of an attack (in case of already compromised systems internally). It helps to protect high-value information from digital harm while ensuring robust security. It also makes intrusion detection faster and easier.
Post-implementation review of security framework and technologies
Developing network security technologies is not a one-time process. As businesses grow and expand and technology advances, the continually changing environment requires that security architecture be continuously monitored and modified as necessary. Best practices for a company’s security system should be tested and validated periodically to ensure it continues to meet business needs.
The hardware and software resources architects use to deploy, run, and monitor network security should regularly be checked and fine-tuned to confirm optimum performance.
New solutions are frequently available to address security concerns in the tech industry. When a technology change occurs in security architecture, the security architect must determine if changes need to be made in response to best practices.
Now, let’s look at some common security frameworks;
Common cybersecurity frameworks
Cyber security frameworks are guidelines that security architects work with when designing, planning, and implementing security infrastructures.
Frameworks are a consistent set of best practices and guidelines for implementing security architecture at different business levels. There are several international framework standards, each directed at meeting various needs. Also, some companies devise unique frameworks. What is crucial is that you choose a framework that best solves your company’s security problems.
Here are some common security frameworks;
SABAS stands for Sherwood Applied Business Security Architecture. It’s a framework for developing risk focussed cyber security architecture. This policy-driven framework involves answering the main questions of security and information assurance: who, what, when, and why.
It ensures security is embedded within an enterprise’s IT architecture or IT management processes but does not include technical implementations.
ISO IEC 27001
An international standard, the ISO 27001, sets the specifications for managing information security management systems (ISMS). The framework observes a risk-based approach that requires corporate bodies to put measures in place for identifying security threats that impact their information systems.
The Standard offers an array of 114 best practices security controls that professionals can apply based on the risks businesses face. These are implemented as part of a companywide organisational structure to achieve certified compliance.
TOGAF stands for The Open Group Architecture Framework, which helps identify and implement practices to solve business problems. It is focused on the basics of security architecture, aiming to meet a set scope and goal of solving a problem. One point worth noticing here is its lack of addressing specific security issues.
The Minimum Cyber Security Standard (MCSS) is part of a series of technical standards developed by the UK government in collaboration with the NCSC (rights reserved).
It sets out a series of mandatory cyber standards that all government departments must achieve to meet their compliance commitments under the SPF and the National Cyber Security Strategy.
Other organisations and businesses can also use MCSS in the UK to create a basis for their security efforts. Integrated visibility and cataloguing of digital assets, web and mobile application security controls are indispensable parts of the MCSS compliance process.
The NIST cyber security framework was designed primarily for US government agencies and companies. Its primary purpose was to strengthen the agencies’ critical infrastructures. Regardless of why US regulators created the framework, it has proven efficient in helping organisations protect themselves from external and internal attacks. The framework is also applicable to UK companies. Many businesses have gone on to integrate it into their security systems.
Purpose of cybersecurity architecture
Cyber threat actors pose an overarching threat to your organisation’s assets. In that regard, any organisation must be well-prepared with people, processes and technology controls that will detect and help remediate risks related to security weaknesses before threat actors do.
The fundamental purpose of a network security architecture is to be an organisation’s armour against cyber threats. Security structures should ensure the protection of all components of its IT infrastructure.
An effective network security architecture should have the following characteristics;
- Constantly find and close blind spots.
Ensure that risk of cyber-attacks is reduced by determining all the elements in your estate. Continuous attack surface management and reduction of risks by carrying out exercises such as penetration testing, security design reviews or code hardening such as PHP security improvements and managed services scans. This will ensure you have no blind spots in your network: the fewer the blind spots, the minimal amount of attack surface exposure to the Internet.
- Stringent network security controls
Make company networks difficult for threat actors to detect and penetrate. This must be thought from an attacker’s perspective and ensuring that a layered protection approach is followed. It involves reducing the attack likelihood, the lateral movements, the impact of an attack, and the ability to recover quickly.
- End-to-end Encryption
Ensure all your confidential and sensitive data are strongly encrypted and subject to end-to-end encryption methods during data in transit. Sensitive data protection often requires good security and privacy controls in the eyes of the law. Organisations must be prepared to deal with the adverse situations in case of data exposure, leaks or data breaches and how to act and report such activities.
- Reducing the infection
When the network is breached, the strong security architecture should reduce the impact of such a compromise while following basic yet strong fundamentals such as a defence-in-depth approach to ensure high difficulty for attackers. This means more time is required for a threat actor to further their chances of success and more chances of being detected or stopping their infiltration attempts.
What are the benefits of cybersecurity architecture?
Privacy and Confidentiality are so hard to maintain in this digital world riddled with cyber threats. The benefits of security architecture cannot be overemphasised. Investing in a robust security system is vital to you and your clients’ protection from attackers. Here are three benefits of network security architecture;
Protects organisations from data breaches
Modern businesses (private or government bodies) need robust security architectures to protect sensitive data and hosting assets. By strengthening your network security architecture to eliminate common loopholes, you can significantly reduce the risk of attackers breaching your systems.
Registers organisations as reliable entities
By implementing security best practices, organisations can demonstrate their trustworthiness to potential partners and clients. These practices will significantly put them ahead of competitors, as people prefer to work with companies that guarantee their privacy.
Ultimately this architecture will prove to be of long-term benefit to the organisation.
Reduces disciplinary sanctions in the event of a cyber attack
When a company implements a robust network security architecture, it establishes itself as a security-conscious body using modern tools and processes to minimise the risks. These are vital steps in an organisation’s efforts to show it takes cyber security seriously and is determined to protect end-users.
It also shows that the organisation complies with all relevant regulations, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Data regulators have generally shown more leniency when organisations do their best to uphold security best practices. They also tend to punish businesses that make little to no effort.
The cyber security architecture is crucial in a business system, like the locks and physical security systems we construct for our office spaces. What varies this time is that the locks are virtual, but double locks are essentials to act as good deterrents. In our modern landscape, these virtual locks have come to prove equally important than physical locks.
A good security architecture takes business objectives, legal and compliance including Governance, Risk and Compliance in cyber security, and security threats into account. Consider securing your business with cyber security validations and secure architecture design reviews today. Get in touch to discuss your primary security concerns.
Shahrukh, is a passionate cyber security analyst and researcher who loves to write technical blogs on different cyber security topics. He holds a Masters degree in Information Security, an OSCP and has a strong technical skillset in offensive security.