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Nearly a third of organizations around the world have been materially affected by a cyberincident in the past 12 months, according to the Global Cybersecurity Outlook 2024, published by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The number of organizations that completely averted cyberattacks in this period will be far higher, of course – even close to 100% – as any organization with a digital presence is now fair game for attackers.

The good news is that it’s not just attackers who benefit from new technologies. The combination of zero trust, secure access service edge (SASE) and AI is also keeping networks safer than ever before.

How does zero trust protect your network?

In the past, when users or devices connected to a corporate network, they inherited trust and access to resources. However, the network no longer makes an assumption of trust. Instead, it verifies upon every connection that there is indeed an authorized user behind the request.

The principle of zero trust is that no entity – whether inside or outside the network – should be automatically trusted, because threats can originate both outside and inside traditional network boundaries. The model requires strict identity verification for every person and device trying to access resources on a private network. Users get the access they need to perform their tasks, nothing more.

There may even be a level of microsegmentation to maintain separate access for different parts of the network. If one segment is compromised, the others remain secure.

These measures reduce the risk of an attacker gaining access to critical data through a less secure point.

In addition, users’ identities are verified through multifactor authentication, which typically involves something the user knows (a password), something the user has (a security token) and something about the user (biometrics).

Automated policies are also used to make real-time decisions about who can access what resources, based on a continual assessment of risk and trust.

What is the role of SASE in network security?

SASE is a network architecture that combines comprehensive software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) capabilities with cloud-native security. It supports the dynamic secure-access needs of organizations – especially those that have a distributed workforce and multiple cloud services.

By converging networking and security into a unified cloud service, SASE maintains secure access no matter where your users, applications or devices are located. It enforces zero trust network access based on the identity of the user and the context of their request rather than the location of the network.

This approach not only improves your network security but also simplifies management, giving you better visibility of and control over your entire IT infrastructure.

The key components of SASE are:

  • SD-WAN across cloud and on-premises environments
  • Secure service edge (SSE), which includes firewall as a service, a cloud access security broker, a cloud secure web gateway and more

Because of its cloud-native design, SASE can easily scale up or down as needed, and you don’t have to adjust your physical infrastructure. It’s also flexible: you can implement security that adapts to the context of a session. Your security policies can dynamically adjust based on the user, device, location and application.

How does AI make a difference in network security?

Although AI is making it easier for cybercriminals to implement adversarial techniques such as phishing, deepfakes and malware development, it also creates risks within organizations – for example, when employees use generative AI (GenAI) tools located outside an organization’s security perimeter and related data-protection measures.

In the WEF security report, more than half of respondents expect GenAI to provide an overall advantage to attackers in the next two years, while 35% expect it to benefit attackers and defenders equally. Only 9% say it will provide an advantage to defenders.

But, when implemented correctly and strategically, AI can boost your threat detection and response capabilities greatly.

AI algorithms are adept at recognizing patterns and anomalies in data. By analyzing vast amounts of your network traffic, AI can identify unusual patterns that may indicate a threat, such as malware activity or unauthorized access attempts, and even predict potential attacks so that you can address vulnerabilities.

It can also learn normal user and device behavior and detect deviations from these behaviors – a useful approach when dealing with potential threats that lack known signatures but behave abnormally.

All this is done at a speed well beyond human capabilities, which is crucial for immediate threat detection and response. AI can even automate immediate response actions, such as isolating a compromised device from the network, which reduces your security team’s workload.

Even the high volumes of data generated by modern networks are not an issue. AI systems can handle data that is far outside the scope of manual analysis.

Now bring it all together

SASE, zero trust and AI all have unique capabilities that complement the others, leading to a more comprehensive approach to cybersecurity.

SASE extends security policies such as zero trust across your network, applying them not just at the perimeter but consistently across all environments, thus supporting the needs of a distributed workforce.

AI enhances SASE by amplifying the enforcement of security policies through intelligence and automation. It can dynamically adjust security measures based on real-time data, thus supporting the zero trust requirement of continuous verification and SASE’s need for adaptive security.

In this way, your network benefits from a security model that is adaptive, intelligent and extensively automated. Your security posture becomes proactive, and you eliminate gaps in security that might occur due to inconsistent policy implementation. Also, streamlined security can free up your IT team to focus on more strategic tasks.

Expert help is essential

When zero trust, SASE and AI are integrated, they create a synergistic effect that strengthens your organization’s network security posture.

However, there is a growing shortage of skills in cybersecurity. Because integrating zero trust with SASE and AI requires careful planning, it becomes a task best left to a specialist service provider and systems integrator like NTT DATA.

An expert partner will scope the project to understand your network traffic patterns and user behaviors. Then they can tailor a security implementation to your unique needs and deploy it efficiently, quickly and in alignment with your business goals.

At NTT DATA, we offer integrated managed network services with Palo Alto Networks Prisma SASE, providing a comprehensive managed SASE solution that includes SD-WAN, SSE, AIOps and analytics, enhanced automation and reporting. 

We have a wealth of network, security, cloud, application and business-process services and skills, which we apply to keep you one step ahead of cyberthreats while enabling the growth of your business.

Where we have deployed large-scale, customized SASE solutions, we have seen game-changing performance improvements, including up to 90% fewer anomalies and a decrease in ticket handling of up to 30%.