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In a military context, stealth technology covers a range of methods employed to make aircraft, ships and other vehicles less visible to detection through radar, sonar or infrared search-and-track systems.
The first public awareness of the role of stealth technology as a major influence in warfare came in the late 1970s with the development of combat aircraft with radical shapes designed to evade detection by enemy radar installations and provide protection from missile attacks.
Today, thanks to the alarming ramp-up of cyber crime – evident during the height of the COVID pandemic and spurred on by the work-from-home movement and the adoption of the hybrid workforce concept – stealth technology is increasingly embraced by organisations to protect sensitive data that is vulnerable to attack by cyber criminals.
In the IT environment, stealth technology – often referred to as stealth networking − has to counter threat developments such as ransomware and other modern malware, while accommodating today’s IT trends. The most significant of which is the confluence of the internet of things, the hybrid workforce and the cloud, which together create a wide attack surface and introduce a new class of vulnerabilities to the traditional network security model.
A couple of years ago, I suggested that stealth technology in the IT context needed to deliver significantly more than basic security through obscurity. I supported the concept of “deliberate obfuscation” in terms of the network's reachability and the services it supports.
Has this goal been achieved?
One of the challenges facing IT security specialists has been the blurring of the traditional network perimeter which has made it difficult – if not impossible − to determine where an organisation’s true boundaries lie and fortify them effectively.
This has rendered obsolete the use of firewalls, conventional intrusion detection and prevention systems and even virtual private networks, which, while effective against known threats from hackers back in the day, have had to be replaced by more refined alternatives that are in line with the new strategic requirements of today’s networks.
Hyper-segmentation redefines the method of segmenting and securing network traffic, while taking much of the complexity out of the process.
Protecting the “everywhere perimeter” – as the non-defined network edge is now referenced – and accommodating the evolving onboarding requirements of many remote devices, as well as users and applications, calls for more sophisticated capabilities, if not a new networking architecture, able to deliver a truly obfuscated or “blacked-out” network.
For a period, it was thought that micro-segmentation technologies represented the holy grail of stealth networking and the realisation of deliberate obfuscation.
This was because micro-segmentation was based on the premise that making certain sections of the network invisible to the outside world would help reduce the number of opportunities presented to cyber criminals.
Not only was the persistence and resourcefulness of cyber criminals underestimated but it became clear that the tools and protocols associated with micro-segmentation created an infrastructure that was performance-limiting and difficult to maintain.
A new approach to stealth networking and deliberate obfuscation was needed.
It's no secret that the military has had to upgrade and refine the concept of stealth technology since its inception. For example, materials known as “metasurfaces” that can redirect radar waves, and “plasma-stealth systems” which use ionised gas to reduce a radar signature, are now at the forefront of developments.
As far as stealth networking is concerned, the refinement has come in the form of hyper-segmentation, which represents a sizable step forward from a number of perspectives.
Hyper-segmentation redefines the method of segmenting and securing network traffic, while taking much of the complexity out of the process, thus improving network performance.
In addition to considerable scalability benefits, hyper-segmentation’s intelligent, software-defined approach has helped create security-enhancing features such as simplified anomaly scanning and automatically-mandated quarantine functions, among others.
More importantly, hyper-segmentation is also central to the design of today's fabric-based networks that are based on a flattened, federated network architecture, which is key to error elimination and a significantly improved security posture.
Fabric networks, which are also ideally suited to evolving cloud-based computer infrastructures and storage systems, provide organisations with a comprehensive range of integrated network services, including the virtualised routing and forwarding of network traffic.
The virtualisation of corporate network elements decouples them from the underlying infrastructure and gives them transparency, thus placing added emphasis on security.
In common with many military objectives, virtualised networks can be rapidly set up and adapted for use in various scenarios. These include fortifying a network’s “anywhere edge” in geographically-distributed locations.
Today, frameworks are evolving which support secure networking between groups of virtual machines through the provision of isolation, confidentiality and the stringent control of information flows.
Against this backdrop, network virtualisation will contribute towards the creation of blacked-out network infrastructures that are specifically tailored to the needs and requirements of many future applications.
Together, hyper-segmentation and network virtualisation are expected to be catalysts in the development of new, far-sighted security-focused stealth networking architectures and protocols, which include fundamental aspects of deliberate obfuscation at their core.
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