Joel Dolisy Solar Winds

Commentary

Build off your BYOD platform to prepare for the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) offers the promise of a more connected and efficient military, but Defense Department IT professionals, still reeling from trying to get their arms around  the “bring your own device” concept, are having a hard time turning that promise into reality. They’re deterred by the increasing demands and security vulnerabilities more connected devices could impose on their networks.

That hasn’t stopped defense agencies from exploring and investing in mobility and next-generation technology, including IoT devices. One of the points in the Defense Information Systems Agency’s 2015 – 2020 Strategic Plan specifically calls out the agency’s desire to “enable warfighter capabilities from a sovereign cyberspace domain, focused on speed, agility, and access.” The plan also notes “mobile devices…continue to transform our operational landscape and enable greater mission effectiveness through improved communication, access, information sharing, data analytics – resulting in more rapid response times.”

It’s a good thing the groundwork for IoT was laid a few years ago, when administrators were working on plans to fortify their networks against an onslaught of mobile devices. Perhaps unbeknownst to them, they had already begun implementing and solidifying strategies that can now serve as a good foundation for managing IoT’s unique set of challenges.

Tiny devices, big problems

The biggest challenge is the sheer number of devices that need to be considered. It’s not just an iPhone here, a Samsung Galaxy there; with IoT, there is literally an explosion of potentially thousands of tiny devices with different operating systems, all pumping vast amounts of data through already overloaded networks. They can range in size and shape, from Internet-connected helmets to automated vehicles and drones, and sport tiny microsensors that can process and deliver large amounts of actionable data that can be useful in both the field and command centers.

Further, many of these technological wonders were developed primarily for convenience, with security as an afterthought. That’s not usually a recipe that appeals to DOD, where security must be a primary consideration at all times.

There’s also the not insignificant matter of managing bandwidth and latency issues that the plethora of IoT devices will no doubt introduce. More devices can mean slower networks or even downtime, neither of which are acceptable. Administrators need to take care to keep latency at a minimum, while successfully managing bandwidth capacity that will likely be heavily taxed by the myriad of connections.

Making the IoT dream an automated reality

Each of these issues can be addressed through strategies revolving around monitoring user devices, managing logs and events, and using encrypted channels – the things that administrators hopefully began implementing in earnest when the first iPhones began hitting their networks. These strategies can form a basic foundation for managing IoT. However, they will have to be used even more robustly than perhaps they are now in order to manage the swell of devices, traffic, and data.

In particular, administrators who are already deploying software to track devices and log events will need to accelerate their efforts to new levels, because those strategies themselves will not be enough. Device tracking will help identify users and devices and create watch lists, but that challenge will be magnified by having to track potentially thousands of new devices, some of which are completely new technologies (think robotic limbs for soldiers, or uniforms that report on warfighters’ vitals). And while log and event management software will still provide valuable data about potential attacks, the attack surface and potential vulnerabilities will increase exponentially with the introduction of a greater number of devices and network access points.

More than ever, managers will want to complement these efforts with network automation solutions, which can correct issues as they arise. This essentially creates a self-healing network that is well protected, resulting in significantly reduced system downtime. It’ll also create a much more streamlined atmosphere for administrators to manage, making it easier for them to get a handle on everything that touches the network – whether it’s a single device, or thousands.

Automation is a godsend for defense agencies with goals to modernize and optimize their networks to be able to handle issues like IoT, yet many have been reluctant to fully embrace automation. They’re still beholden to legacy systems and outdated thinking.

That mindset cannot and will not work in a world where everything, from the tablets at central command to the uniforms on soldiers’ bodies, will someday soon be connected. It’s now time for federal IT administrators to build off their BYOD strategies to help the Defense Department realize DISA’s desire for a highly connected and mobilized military.

About the Author

Joel Dolisy is the CIO at SolarWinds.

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