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Security Starts at the Edge – Akamai Security Summit 2021

In our decentralised world, where users, applications and threats are everywhere, the Akamai Security Summit 2021 explored how security needs to start at the edge. The EVP and Chief Technology Officer of Akamai, Dr Robert Blumofe, kicked off the Summit by providing a clear explanation of the edge, how it offers security across all data flows and why it is the foundation for effective security strategies of the future.

Robert opened up his keynote session with a quote from Gartner, "Digital transformation and adoption of mobile, cloud and edge deployment models fundamentally change network traffic patterns, rendering existing network and security models obsolete."

He found the quote interesting, especially now that digital transformation has enabled many to adopt and migrate everything to the cloud. "We move from the physical data centre, out to the virtual data centre, out to the cloud, and the applications move to the cloud. In many cases with them, we naturally move the performance stack and the security stack out to the cloud, out to the virtual data centre."

However, Robert pointed out that the cloud may not be the right answer when it comes to the performance stack and security stack. Why is that? According to Robert, it's not where the users, threats and applications are. These things: users, threats and applications, they live everywhere!

He then dove deeper and explained what he meant by 'live everywhere'. When we look prior to the pandemic, users were already working remotely; whether on the road, customer site, coffee shop, or hotel room. The pandemic only accelerated it further and post-pandemic, the expectation for users to work remotely will be even greater. In this case, users are everywhere!

The threats are also coming from everywhere – through organised crime, advanced persistent threat groups, insider threats, hacktivists, script kiddies and so on. These threat actors increasingly utilise bots to perform their attacks, and they can be anywhere and everywhere. 

Speaking of applications, Robert said, "Any decent-sized enterprises are probably using multiple clouds. Even if you're standardising on one cloud, it's not unreasonable to think that through acquisition you might end up actually with applications across multiple clouds. Even if you're standardised on one cloud, you probably have multiple cloud locations. Many enterprises still have legacy data centres that may not go away anytime soon," said Robert.

Since these “things” are everywhere, he then brought up a question, can you really replicate your performance and security stack everywhere? According to Robert, the answer is no. He mentioned that if you have your performance and security stack in a handful of locations, either in the data centre or in the cloud, you're in a situation where you have to backhaul your traffic. 

And this is the tricky part, he added, because backhauling traffic is the enemy of performance; it is not only expensive but it also deteriorates employee experience. 

Hence, Robert shared his catchphrase, "Do not backhaul traffic!" Instead, he suggests moving the performance and security stack over to the edge where it is ubiquitous near the users, threats and applications.

"And that is exactly the approach that we've taken at Akamai. At this point, our edge consists of 4,000 locations, in almost a thousand different cities and 135 different countries. And this really makes Akamai unique by being in all of these locations. Having access to all of these networks, we are right at the last mile; right where all the entities, whether it's things or users or bots, connect so we can provide [the] relevant performance, we can provide security and we can block attack traffic right at its source and give it no opportunity to get near its target," explained Robert.

According to him, Akamai’s intelligent edge platform delivers performance, scale and security across all data flow. Robert also pointed out that having performance, scale and security all in one platform is important because it means that performance and security no longer have to be conflicting priorities. In other words, ‘more security’ doesn’t have to mean ‘less performance’.

As Akamai provides performance and security on the same machines, there isn't that trade-off. In fact, you actually get performance as you consume security capabilities as well. So, you get the best of both worlds. 

As online demand continues to surge, the stakes are higher than ever. Cybercriminals are figuring out new ways to expose vulnerabilities, disrupt services, and steal data. With that, Robert ended the session with a reminder for every organisation to innovate. And with the help of Akamai, he hopes that organisations will be able to innovate security strategies to secure their business.

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