What is adaptive security?

Adaptive security is a security approach that’s used to respond to potential cyberthreats in real-time by continually monitoring user sessions. It can be both more user-friendly and more secure than legacy security solutions that focus on perimeter defense, and is part of a zero trust framework.

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Why do organizations need adaptive security?

With remote and hybrid work arrangements becoming commonplace, businesses are increasingly allowing users to connect to corporate networks, applications, and data from unmanaged and BYOD devices—with good reason. Many employees want to be able to choose the devices they use each day for work, and they don’t want IT to manage them.

From a security standpoint, this creates significant data security challenges. IT teams don’t have insight into the health of personal devices, which makes it difficult to defend against common types of malware and can open the door to potential security breaches.

Adaptive security solves this problem by letting IT enforce granular policies on BYOD and unmanaged devices that may have been exposed to external threats. For example, when someone uses a personal device to access sensitive information stored in a corporate application, adaptive security could be used to scramble keystrokes and return screenshots as blank—thereby preventing any attempts by hackers to steal data.

How does adaptive security differ from traditional security?

Perhaps the most effective way to define adaptive security is to compare it to legacy security methods that have traditionally emphasized protecting the perimeter of a company network against a known list of threats.

Traditional security policies were all about control. A company owned its desktop and notebook PCs and issued these devices to employees. The business also owned its own servers, running them in its own datacenter or in a colocation facility. The IT department was responsible for creating defenses around devices, applications, and network resources. 

Those defenses included firewalls and security updates installed on company-controlled PCs. As new cybersecurity threats emerged, IT security personnel made sure the defenses would provide protection against those new types of attacks.

While this was a reliable cybersecurity approach for many years, the fast-moving realities of modern digital business have rendered it too limited to be truly effective. When putting legacy approaches up against today's advanced threats, it's clear companies need to evolve past traditional methods. For example:

  • Zero-day threats cause problems for perimeter security: Advanced threats created specifically to exploit unpatched software vulnerabilities are an especially dangerous type of exploit. These advanced attacks are specifically built to undermine rigid security.
  • Modern networks need to incorporate more endpoints: Traveling and everyday remote employees connect to company resources from an endless variety of locations. Enforcing endpoint security, especially when workers are using BYOD technology, is too big a job for any legacy security system.
  • Legacy technology would compromise user efficiency: Employing a traditional security approach today could prevent users from having easy and secure access to company resources, whether that means systems hosted on internal servers or cloud apps. Constant manual authentication can slow everyday workflows significantly.

These shortcomings have driven businesses to choose adaptive security policies that allow them to handle advanced threats while keeping users productive.

How is adaptive security used?

Companies creating cybersecurity policies that reflect the reality of today’s remote and hybrid work environments, along with the advanced threats they face, are embracing adaptive security architecture. The key concept behind these methods and technologies is zero trust network access (ZTNA)—the approach used to continually verify access and prevent lateral movement within a corporate network. 

As part of a zero trust framework, adaptive authentication methods that activate before and after a user logs in on a particular device keep track of contextual information such as user behavior, location, and device posture to determine what level of access that individual should have at any given time.

One of the most exciting elements of such a solution from a productivity perspective is that many of the processes involved are invisible to the users. They simply use single sign-on (SSO) to access the app, while adaptive authentication ensures they really are who they claim to be and are using company resources in an approved way.

Having adaptive access and adaptive authentication, whether hosted in company servers or in the cloud, allows IT to protect the business's proprietary data and software. Using advanced analytics algorithms based on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning principles, these defenses can lock down network resources at the first sign of a threat.

These modern security solutions are distributed via the cloud to secure access through continuous monitoring and threat detection. They allow IT to deal with a single vendor, rather than one company for each piece of legacy security technology. And because they place security controls close to apps and end users, they are scalable.


Securing a remote workforce with a zero trust strategy

Learn about the key concepts behind adaptive security and zero trust, and learn how to get started with a zero trust implementation.

Why is adaptive security important in today's threat landscape?

Cybercriminals hoping to breach companies' defenses tend to be opportunistic, both about which businesses they target and the methods they use to break into organizations' networks. Advanced security preparations are necessary to keep these bad actors from causing damage and financial loss.

In today's highly digital corporate landscape, every firm has proprietary information that could be worth money if stolen or locked by ransomware. As each company expands outward, adding more users, new applications and extra unmanaged endpoints, hackers sense the opportunity to break into networks through these untested resources.

ZTNA powered by adaptive security technologies is the appropriate response to this climate, where a cyberattack could come from any side at any time. Engaging in an arms race against hackers to develop new countermeasures is a recipe for trouble, as a single security breach is enough to cause massive financial and reputation damage to a breached organization. With ZTNA to hide applications from discovery and restrict access based on identities and real-time risk factors, organizations can significantly reduce the attack surface. 

One important reason to deploy adaptive security architecture and methods against this ever-evolving threat network involves the human element. When using perimeter-based security, there is always a chance that a user will unwittingly bring a threat inside the firewall—as often happens when someone falls victim to a spear phishing hoax. ZTNA defenses are up at all times, protecting against risks while requiring minimal input from users themselves.

What is the business value of adaptive security?

The value associated with an adaptive security model comes from several sources. Perhaps most importantly, this method allows companies to provide seamless access in the era of remote and hybrid work and BYOD technology without introducing high levels of risk. On a more granular level, there are concrete types of return on investment for IT directors to point to when championing such a system. These include the following:

Savings from risk reduction

The price tag for a data breach ranges from emergency system repairs to potential regulatory fines, coupled with the lost revenue associated with a damaged reputation. For this reason, a security approach that’s in line with the modern advanced threat landscape is a sound investment.

Support for modern employee workflows

Traditional security methods such as virtual private networks (VPN) can be tricky for employees to manage. They may have to only use company-controlled endpoints or use several sets of login credentials, or both. Adaptive security coupled with SSO provides protection without disrupting workflows.

Workers have uninterrupted access to applications based on roles and the security posture of their devices. Adaptive access algorithms manage this process behind the scenes, only becoming visible to users when a major risk factor has been detected.

Reduced demands on internal IT

Managing a legacy security system can be a tough assignment for the IT department. Constantly rolling out updates and following manual processes is demanding of time and effort. Businesses may find themselves hiring more members of the department simply to keep up with security as their networks expand.

An adaptive security approach managed through a single cloud provider gives IT a different experience altogether. Personnel can deal with a single contact for all their security needs, while not having to deal with manually updating software or managing users' devices. Even with a small security team, companies can get advanced protection.

Citrix solutions for adaptive security

In an era of demanding security needs and escalating security threats, Citrix secure access solutions provide comprehensive protection. With Citrix Secure Private Access, organizations can easily deliver adaptive security without compromising employee productivity. Adding new applications is simple through the API, and bringing in new users is not a problem, even if they’re logging on from remote locations using BYO devices. The ZTNA framework is flexible enough to accommodate companies' unique needs, while SSO and adaptive authentication help ensure users can continue work uninterrupted.