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How SD-WAN closes performance gap for business

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Riverbed Technology sub-Saharan Africa country manager WIMPIE VAN RENSBURG outlines how SD-WAN technology helps improve the performance of enterprise applications.

As an increasing number of organisations migrate to the cloud, the gap between the needs and expectations of the business and IT’s ability to deliver is growing. With apps, data and users scattered across branch offices and other remote locations, IT is struggling to deliver the application performance businesses need to remain productive. In fact, the Riverbed Global Application Performance Survey 2015 shows that while 98 per cent of executives believe that enterprise application performance is critical to achieving optimal business performance, 89 per cent say poor performance of enterprise applications negatively impacts their productivity on a regular basis.

So what is the cause of this performance gap and how can businesses close it? Chances are IT is wrestling with a complex, inflexible WAN – a wide area computer network, to interconnect their diverse application workloads to their distributed workforce. In fact, the WAN is likely the IT infrastructure’s weakest link, and it’s preventing it from meeting the dynamic demands of the modern enterprise.

Business is speeding up, and IT needs to keep pace. Organisations need SD-WAN (software-defined wide area networking), and here’s why.

Today’s network challenges

Driven by the rapid globalisation of the business world, the WAN is becoming more and more dispersed every day. Remote workers are scattered across the globe — in branch offices, construction sites and coffee shops, to name just a few — and they all demand flawless network performance to stay productive.

What’s more, end users are depending on an ever-expanding catalogue of applications, some of them cloud based. And if the apps don’t work, neither do your end users. Many of them are even adopting independent apps which are not explicitly approved by the organisation — a phenomenon called “shadow IT”– in order to get work done in a timely manner.

As a result, today’s networks are more unruly than ever. Businesses need a new day in networking, and they need it now. But why?

The trouble with traditional MPLS WANs

Old-school WANs are having a hard time meeting the demands of the modern business. A network based on MPLS links can be expensive but also time-consuming. Traditional MPLS networks rely on operation paradigms that were defined more than 15 years ago at a time were the pace of changes was a matter of months not a matter of days.

The trouble with hybrid WANs

Many organisation are today considering reducing the costs of MPLS based networks using more affordable Internet links to create a hybrid WAN. But in many cases, what you save in costs you sacrifice in security and control.

Moreover, a significant rise in encryption and cloud technologies can cut into network visibility, making it next to impossible to know when and where a performance problem is occurring.

All the while, the pressure is mounting on IT, and the business is expecting you to act at the drop of a hat:

  • They need you to deploy a new app that will totally change your traffic profile (and you need to maintain control), today
  • They need you to provision a new branch office on the other side of the world with the right apps and data, and make sure mission-critical apps are performing flawlessly for all users no matter what, today

The list goes on. But unfortunately, the state of your network has you handcuffed. And this is where SD-WAN comes in.

What SD-WAN can do for businesses

To put it simply, SD-WAN allows businesses to control their network from a single, easy-to-use, intuitive command centre. At its core, SD-WAN enables them to make on-the-fly adjustments to network performance and application delivery, in order to meet the businesses ever-changing needs.

By leveraging software-defined networking (SDN) principles, designed to make networks more flexible and agile, SD-WAN enables organisations to direct traffic and deploy network services across a WAN from a centralised location — without any mess or hassle. Instead of the old router-based model, which required IT managers to make intensive CLI-based code changes to routers, SD-WAN allows network services and policies to be assigned to different locations, users, and even apps — all with just a few clicks.

What’s more, an app-centric SD-WAN will automatically identify the applications in the organisation’s network and group them into logical categories based on business criticality, and even apply network-service policies to those categories based on built-in best practices.

These benefits offer IT a broad range of possibilities. Organisations can automatically route voice traffic to their highest-quality network paths. They can quickly segregate employee traffic from that of partners and customers. They can send recreational Internet traffic through the most rigorous firewalls. And more. And IT can do it all simply and centrally, without breaking a sweat.

All in all, SD-WAN makes networks more flexible and agile than ever, which, in turn, allows you to meet business needs efficiently and effectively.

* These issues will be explored at the Riberbed Force for Business event in Joihannesburg on 20 April. 

* For more information, and to register to attend the event, click here.

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Which IoT horse should you back?

The emerging IoT is evolving at a rapid pace with more companies entering the market. The development of new product and communication systems is likely to continue to grow over the next few years, after which we could begin to see a few dominant players emerge, says DARREN OXLEE, CTOf of Utility Systems.

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But in the interim, many companies face a dilemma because, in such a new industry, there are so many unknowns about its trajectory. With the variety of options available (particularly regarding the medium of communication), there’s the a question of which horse to back.

Many players also haven’t fully come to grips with the commercial models in IoT (specifically, how much it costs to run these systems).

Which communication protocol should you consider for your IoT application? Depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s a summary of the main low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) communications options that are currently available, along with their applicability:

SIGFOX 

SigFox has what is arguably the most traction in the LPWAN space, thanks to its successful marketing campaigns in Europe. It also has strong support from vendors including Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs, and Axom.

It’s a relatively simple technology, ultra-narrowband (100 Hz), and sends very small data (12 bytes) very slowly (300 bps). So it’s perfect for applications where systems need to send small, infrequent bursts of data. Its lack of downlink capabilities, however, could make it unsuitable for applications that require two-way communication.

LORA 

LoRaWAN is a standard governed by the LoRa Alliance. It’s not open because the underlying chipset is only available through Semtech – though this should change in future.

Its functionality is like SigFox: it’s primarily intended for uplink-only applications with multiple nodes, although downlink messages are possible. But unlike SigFox, LoRa uses multiple frequency channels and data rates with coded messages. These are less likely to interfere with one another, increasing the concentrator capacity.

RPMA 

Ingenu Technology Solutions has developed a proprietary technology called Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) in the 2.4 GHz band. Due to its architecture, it’s said to have a superior uplink and downlink capacity compared to other models.

It also claims to have better doppler, scheduling, and interference characteristics, as well as a better link budget of 177 dB compared to LoRa’s 157 dB and SigFox’s 149 dB. Plus, it operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is globally available for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so there are no regional architecture changes needed – unlike SigFox and LoRa.

LTE-M 

LTE-M (LTE Cat-M1) is a cellular technology that has gained traction in the United States and is specifically designed for IoT or machine‑to‑machine (M2M) communications.

It’s a low‑power wide‑area (LPWA) interface that connects IoT and M2M devices with medium data rate requirements (375 kb/s upload and download speeds in half duplex mode). It also enables longer battery lifecycles and greater in‑building range compared to standard cellular technologies like 2G, 3G, or LTE Cat 1.

Key features include:

·       Voice functionality via VoLTE

·       Full mobility and in‑vehicle hand‑over

·       Low power consumption

·       Extended in‑building range

NB-IOT 

Narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT or LTE Cat NB1) is part of the same 3GPP Release 13 standard3 that defined LTE Cat M1 – both are licensed as LPWAN technologies that work virtually anywhere. NB-IoT connects devices simply and efficiently on already established mobile networks and handles small amounts of infrequent two‑way data securely and reliably.

NB‑IoT is well suited for applications like gas and water meters through regular and small data transmissions, as network coverage is a key issue in smart metering rollouts. Meters also tend to be in difficult locations like cellars, deep underground, or in remote areas. NB‑IoT has excellent coverage and penetration to address this.

MY FORECAST

The LPWAN technology stack is fluid, so I foresee it evolving more over the coming years. During this time, I suspect that we’ll see:

1.     Different markets adopting different technologies based on factors like dominant technology players and local regulations

2.     The technologies diverging for a period and then converging with a few key players, which I think will be SigFox, LoRa, and the two LTE-based technologies

3.     A significant technological shift in 3-5 years, which will disrupt this space again

So, which horse should you back?

I don’t believe it’s prudent to pick a single technology now; lock-in could cause serious restrictions in the long-term. A modular, agile approach to implementing the correct communications mechanism for your requirements carries less risk.

The commercial model is also hugely important. The cellular and telecommunications companies will understandably want to maximise their returns and you’ll want to position yourself to share an equitable part of the revenue.

So: do your homework. And good luck!

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Ms Office hack attacks up 4X

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Exploits, software that takes advantage of a bug or vulnerability, for Microsoft Office in-the-wild hit the list of cyber headaches in Q1 2018. Overall, the number of users attacked with malicious Office documents rose more than four times compared with Q1 2017. In just three months, its share of exploits used in attacks grew to almost 50% – this is double the average share of exploits for Microsoft Office across 2017. These are the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q1 IT threat evolution report.

Attacks based on exploits are considered to be very powerful, as they do not require any additional interactions with the user and can deliver their dangerous code discreetly. They are therefore widely used; both by cybercriminals looking for profit and by more sophisticated nation-backed state actors for their malicious purposes.

The first quarter of 2018 experienced a massive inflow of these exploits, targeting popular Microsoft Office software. According to Kaspersky Lab experts, this is likely to be the peak of a longer trend, as at least ten in-the-wild exploits for Microsoft Office software were identified in 2017-2018 – compared to two zero-day exploits for Adobe Flash player used in-the-wild during the same time period.

The share of the latter in the distribution of exploits used in attacks is decreasing as expected (accounting for slightly less than 3% in the first quarter) – Adobe and Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making it difficult to exploit Flash Player.

After cybercriminals find out about a vulnerability, they prepare a ready-to-go exploit. They then frequently use spear-phishing as the infection vector, compromising users and companies through emails with malicious attachments. Worse still, such spear-phishing attack vectors are usually discreet and very actively used in sophisticated targeted attacks – there were many examples of this in the last six months alone.

For instance, in late 2017, Kaspersky Lab’s advanced exploit prevention systems identified a new Adobe Flash zero-day exploit used in-the-wild against our customers. The exploit was delivered through a Microsoft Office document and the final payload was the latest version of FinSpy malware. Analysis of the payload enabled researchers to confidently link this attack to a sophisticated actor known as ‘BlackOasis’. The same month, Kaspersky Lab’s experts published a detailed analysis of СVE-2017-11826, a critical zero-day vulnerability used to launch targeted attacks in all versions of Microsoft Office. The exploit for this vulnerability is an RTF document containing a DOCX document that exploits СVE-2017-11826 in the Office Open XML parser. Finally, just a couple of days ago, information on Internet Explorer zero day CVE-2018-8174 was published. This vulnerability was also used in targeted attacks.

“The threat landscape in the first quarter again shows us that a lack of attention to patch management is one of the most significant cyber-dangers. While vendors usually issue patches for the vulnerabilities, users often can’t update their products in time, which results in waves of discreet and highly effective attacks once the vulnerabilities have been exposed to the broad cybercriminal community,” notes Alexander Liskin, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.

Other online threat statistics from the Q1, 2018 report include:

  • Kaspersky Lab solutions detected and repelled 796,806,112 malicious attacks from online resources located in 194 countries around the world.
  • 282,807,433 unique URLs were recognised as malicious by web antivirus components.
  • Attempted infections by malware that aims to steal money via online access to bank accounts were registered on 204,448 user computers.
  • Kaspersky Lab’s file antivirus detected a total of 187,597,494 unique malicious and potentially unwanted objects.
  • Kaspersky Lab mobile security products also detected:
    • 1,322,578 malicious installation packages.
    • 18,912 mobile banking Trojans (installation packages).

To reduce the risk of infection, users are advised to:

  • Keep the software installed on your PC up to date, and enable the auto-update feature if it is available.
  • Wherever possible, choose a software vendor that demonstrates a responsible approach to a vulnerability problem. Check if the software vendor has its own bug bounty program.

·         Use robust security solutions , which have special features to protect against exploits, such as Automatic Exploit Prevention.

·         Regularly run a system scan to check for possible infections and make sure you keep all software up to date.

  • Businesses should use a security solution that provides vulnerability, patch management and exploit prevention components, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. The patch management feature automatically eliminates vulnerabilities and proactively patches them. The exploit prevention component monitors suspicious actions of applications and blocks malicious files executions.
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