VMware’s New Idea for Fixing Cybersecurity: Intrinsic Security

At VMworld Europe 2019, Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware said security is fundamentally broken and that the overabundance of vendors is making the problem worse. I’m not sure this is true. Gelsinger had some good lines: applications that are updated and patched on a regular basis should be illegal and outlawed by legislation, and that security is too threat-based.

Making security less threat-focused is a good thing

The solution, according to VMware, is simple: we need to build more security in the platform with the supreme goal of a single security agent running across the entire enterprise. Security therefore should be built-in, unified and focused on the applications not the threat. That part is true: security should be less threat-focused, but I believe that the security of an organization should also be risk-based identity management.

When large platform vendors start talking about simplifying security it inevitably revolves around their platform – in this case a widely used and trusted platform. So, what is VMware’s solution? Not surprisingly it consists of putting apps and data at the center of access points, endpoint, identity, workload, cloud and the network  - all protected by the “intrinsic security” layer, also known as Carbon Black, which VMware has now fully acquired. This will succeed because VMware will use big data analytics with a single agent that monitors all endpoints, and IAM lifecycle management will be built into the infrastructure.

“The Carbon Black platform will deliver a highly differentiated intrinsic security platform across network, endpoint, workload, identity, cloud and analytics. We believe this will bring a fundamentally new paradigm to the security industry,” said Gelsinger.

It ain’t what you do, it's the way that you do it

It’s obviously a compelling prospect but is it realistic? VMware are right to suggest that two major blocks to security are bolted-on solutions, and siloed platforms. But it would be more accurate to say that badly chosen bolted on solutions are a problem, and solutions that run within silos are the result of little or no risk assessment and bad planning. There are indeed thousands of security vendors out there, which VMware illustrated with a couple of slides featuring hundreds of logos (pity the poor guy who had to put that together).

The fundamental reason that so many solutions exist is that so many security and identity challenges exist, and these vary on the type and size of organization. Digital transformation has now added extra challenges. The demands of securing data, identity and authentication are fluid and require innovation in the market, which is why we cover it. Gelsinger was right to say that consolidation must come within organizations and in the vendor space – that is normal, and VMware’s acquisition is a good example of that. But consolidation is often followed by market innovation from startups that serve new demands that the process of consolidation leaves behind.

Super solutions are not a new idea

Which brings us to the crux of this so-called intrinsic security proposition. In simple terms, chucking a semi-intelligent big data analytics engine around your cloud and virtualised infrastructures sounds great. The real-time analysis engine keeps all the bad stuff out without relying solely old-fashioned AV and signature-based protection. Except I don’t think that is possible. It will not solve all granular problems around IAM such as privileged accounts and credentials embedded in code. Intrinsic Security sounds very much like a super firewall solution for VMware – useful to have but it won’t stop organizations that run on VMware from eventually going back to that slide with so many other vendor logos...

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