By Paul Parker, SolarWinds Federal & National Government Chief Technologist
It’s the time of year when we look toward the future. Here's an interesting article from my colleague, Joe Kim, where he provides a few predictions.
Want a good idea of what’s coming next in federal IT? Look no further than the financial services industry.
Consider the similarities between financial firms and government agencies. Both are highly regulated, strive for greater agility, efficiency, and control of their networks and data. Also, cybersecurity remains a core necessity for organizations in both industries.
Technologies that have become popular in the financial services industry are making hay in federal IT. Let’s focus on three of these—blockchain, software-defined networking (SDN) and containers—and explore what they mean for agencies’ network management and security initiatives.
A blockchain is a digital ledger of transactions and ordered records, or blocks. It’s an easily verifiable, distributed database that can be used to keep permanent records of all the transactions that take place over a network.
While invented to record financial services for bitcoin transactions, blockchain can be a powerful tool for better data security. For example, governments are using blockchain to provide services to citizens. There’s even a Congressional Blockchain Caucus dedicated to educating government officials on its benefits.
Blockchain is far from the only solution that agencies should consider, however. Traditional network monitoring, which allows for automated threat detection across the network, and user device monitoring are still the bread and butter of network and data security.
SDN is another technology that many financial services firms and agencies have explored as a means of solidifying network security. SDNs are more easily pliable and readily adaptable to respond to evolving threat vectors. They also provide network managers with central control of the entire network infrastructure, allowing them to respond more quickly to suspicious activity.
But an SDN is still only as good as its network management protocols, which must be equipped to adequately handle virtual networks. Managers must be able to monitor end-to-end network analytics and performance statistics across the network, which, with SDN, are likely to be very abstract and distributed. Special care must be taken, and the appropriate tools deployed, to help ensure that managers maintain the same amount of network visibility in an SDN as they would have with a traditional network.
For organizations seeking a more streamlined approach to application development, Linux® containers are like nirvana. Essentially extremely lightweight and highly portable application development environments, containers offer the promise of much shorter development times and substantial cost savings. Because of these benefits, banking giants like Goldman Sachs® and Bank of America® are using containers and there is also growing federal government interest.
However, there have been concerns around container security. Because there are many different container platforms available, it is tricky to design a standard security tool that works well with all of them. Containers comprise multiple stacks and layers, each of which must be secured individually. There’s also the inherent nature of containers, which, on its surface, appears to be staunchly anti-security because of their ephemeral and transportable nature.
Federal developers who are considering using containers need to be aware of these security implications and risks. Although container security has gotten a lot better over the years, agencies should still consider taking steps to secure their containers or use enterprise-hardened container solutions that comply with federal guidelines and recommendations, such as those laid out in the NIST® Application Container Security Guide.
We clearly are in the midst of a technological revolution. While financial services and other non-government industries have thus far been the primary torchbearers for this movement, the federal government is now ready to take the lead. With blockchain, SDN, and containers, federal IT professionals have three innovative technologies to use—along with traditional network management practices—to strengthen security and innovation.
Find the full article on our partner DLT’s blog Technically Speaking.