In his study of public policy and its impact, University of California at Berkeley professor and author Thomas Sowell observed that, “There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.” This realization also applies to business decisions, such as digital transformation. The benefits are clear: More efficient operations, data-driven insights, scale and personalized customer experiences.
So what are the trade-offs? The long and winding path of a digital transformation often leaves behind a trail of exposed assets. Every business partnership that accelerates the process, and every vendor that enriches the offering, adds to a growing digital web of connections. This extends the company’s attack surface from internet-facing assets across their digital supply chains.
According to Gartner, “Digital transformation initiatives have been instrumental in the expansion of enterprises’ attack surface, which is increasingly exposing them to threat actors’ activities.” Digital transformation has come with well-known benefits, but also at the expense of increased cyber risk.
The Security Challenges of Digital Transformation
First, let’s spend some time understanding the security challenges associated with digital transformation. By understanding what these are, organizations can be better prepared to manage the trade-offs they are making.
- Increased Attack Surface: As organizations adopt more digital tools, platforms and technologies, they expand their attack surface. Every new device, application, or system can potentially introduce vulnerabilities.
- Complexity: Digital transformation often involves integrating various systems, platforms and technologies. This complexity can lead to security gaps.
- Pace of Change: The speed at which digital transformations often occur can mean that security considerations are overlooked.
- Data Proliferation: Digital transformation initiatives often involve the collection, storage and analysis of vast amounts of data. This data can be a target for cybercriminals.
- Cloud Migration: Many digital transformations involve moving to cloud-based systems. While cloud providers invest heavily in security, the shared responsibility model means that organizations are still responsible for securing their data and applications.
- Legacy Systems: In the process of transformation, old legacy systems might still be in use and connected to newer systems. These older systems might not have been designed with modern security threats in mind.
- Third-Party Vendors: Digital transformation often involves relying on third-party vendors for software, platforms or services. Each of these vendors can introduce their own set of security risks..
Adjusting For Trade-Offs
If an organization can be aware of these trade-offs and added risks as they digitally transform, they can be better prepared to protect themselves.
Some basic concepts should be kept in mind:
- As more services are exposed, additional tools are required to understand exposure.
- As organizations migrate from on-premises to the cloud, they need to add capabilities and solutions to monitor their assets in the cloud and access to the cloud.
- As IT gets more complex and mature, so too must an organization’s security program.
Awareness vs. Action
Awareness of added risks is a start. But organizations need to know specific risks and how to prioritize them.
Here are some tips to get started with taking action on managing and mitigating the trade-offs that come with digital transformation:
- Automation for discovery of your assets is key, you can’t rely solely on humans here.
- Prioritization should be based on impact and what you are protecting. If a system has no data to worry about, then prioritize vulnerabilities first.
- Design your security process and program to meet compliance mandates.
- Remove services and applications that are no longer in use so they are not risks.
- Implement systems that can track changes across development and production environments.
Digital transformation is an essential part of any organization’s ability to be successful today. As businesses go digital, their security programs must mature and evolve. This can start with the basics and evolve from there. Become aware of the trade-offs you are making and the added risks you are taking on.
Leverage the solutions required to gain visibility into these risks. And, add the expertise and experience needed to understand prioritizing and managing these risks so that your organization is compliant and your security program is transforming and growing alongside the rest of your business.