Taking Network Security to the Cloud

| April 16, 2012

The expectations of today’s guests have made their way from the front desk to IT. A decade ago, we wouldn’t have imagined that network security would be a front-of-house issue – yet here we are. Today’s savvy travelers want more than connectivity. They expect ironclad security that protects their entire “online” experience in the hotel, from online booking and iPad-enabled check-in to the wireless connectivity in their rooms.
 
The challenge is that many hotels lack the IT resources to adequately stay on top of security. Budget cuts, fewer resources and a need for more IT support on and off-site has stretched the IT department thin. IT staff members spend much of their time traveling between properties to handle mid-level support issues and install upgrades. Only a small percentage of their time is actually dedicated to making sure IT stays ahead of the curve.
As a result, hospitality IT has become a slave to its many financial and resource constraints. Network security functions are limited to making sure security patches are up to date and services are running rather than proactively identifying security threats and preventing attacks. In today’s cyber threat environment, that makes the hospitality industry a desirable and lucrative target for attacks.
 
While this may be the grim reality of IT triage, that doesn’t make it acceptable. In the age of identity theft and cyber attacks, more has to be done – starting with vendors.
 
Marks of a well-secured network system
 
The biggest threat to network security at the hotel property level isn’t a lack of technology – it is the lack of resources to manage it.  A strong network security solution should combine cloud-based security configuration with plug and play installation of a firewall and IPS appliances. In effect, hotel IT staff should be able to deploy and manage the deployment of 100 firewalls just as easily as they can deploy and manage one. This sort of approach to network security deployment tackles the IT resource issue head on. A single network administrator at a headquarters office can prepare and publish device configurations to the installation cloud.
 
Ideally the firewall or IPS device should be shipped directly to the property where anyone (e.g. GM) can simply plug the device into the network. The device will automatically contact and authenticate to the installation cloud, retrieve its configuration, and then reboot into the hotel’s network ready to protect. Back at IT headquarters, the entire network (and all of its devices at multiple locations) can be monitored and managed. One company that has already rolled out a system with these features is Stonesoft which recently introduced its transformable security engine.
 
The impact of a mass security approach is significant to hotel network operations. It could eliminate the need for on-site IT resources to configure and deploy security appliances. It could also provide much-needed network visibility across an entire portfolio of properties. Lastly, it would be instrumental in expediting large-scale security deployments and updates.
 
This hands-off approach is not unfamiliar to IT by any means (e.g. SaaS, anyone?), but it seems security is one of the last to jump on the bandwagon. If it decides to follow suit, network security in hospitality stands to benefit greatly.
 
 

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