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Eric Hutchinson

Network virtualisation is an accelerating trend undermining old certainties about the nature and value of organisation and structure. Eric Hutchinson, CEO Spirent Communications puts the case for new thinking about the relationship between the virtual and the real in life, and in business.

I recently read a memoir of childhood in the 1950s, with a description of being sent into exile: the mother gives the child a tearful farewell hug before the walk across the tarmac to the plane, turning and waving goodbye. Being allowed to walk freely to the runway for that final farewell is a far cry from today’s high security international flights. Without the added paperwork, delays at checkpoints, security scans and zigzag queuing, international travel was vastly more efficient for the traveller in those days.

Today we do have the technology to recreate such an efficient and open airport environment. With camera surveillance, automated facial recognition, tracking and messaging to cell phones – it would even be possible to implant identity chips and do away with passports – nearly all the walls, barriers and checkpoints could go, leaving passengers and friends to walk freely without any queues. There would still be a need to check hand baggage before boarding, but it only requires a message to the passenger’s mobile phone “You are expected at Scan point C in 5 minutes. It is 1 minute walk from your present position.”

It could be a flexible and efficient solution – making air travel a joy for the traveller. But it would demand a seismic shift in thinking: with no clearly defined passenger streams punctuated with physical checkpoints, how could anyone guarantee security, manage throughput, or respond to emergencies? Government would never allow it – and yet something quite similar is already happening to our data networks.

Eric Hutchinson

Eric Hutchinson

The traditional data network consists of cable routes linking switches and routers that serve as checkpoints for monitoring and directing which signals go where – together with security points to scan, allow or block traffic according to its legitimacy. But the advent of “software defined networking”

(SDN) and “network functions virtualisation” (NFV), while keeping the same cables in place, is transforming that rigid network structure into a dynamic and flexible data environment. To understand how this is possible, go back to the airport model.

Effectively, that futuristic airport consists of two layers: a physical space with real people walking through it, and a virtual model of that space where every person, their details and their position is mapped in real time. This concept is not difficult to grasp: long ago Plato proposed that the physical world we inhabit could be just a shadow cast by a more real, objective world lyingoutside our senses. The only question now is: which is the real world and which the shadow?

For the passenger there is little doubt about the reality of the airport and the weight of their luggage, so the control layer is just the shadow cast by the people and structures it maps. But for the airport controller it is not so obvious: the control layer is where all the decisions are being made, and the fate of those people is being determined. Consider a game of chess: is it a struggle between white and black pieces of plastic on a board? Or is it more truly a struggle between two minds, where the pieces on the board are simply a reflection of that struggle? For the airport, or network, manager the virtualisation could seem more real than the human pawns being manipulated across the physical space.

This could all be seen as a nice piece of ivory tower speculation, except that the virtualisation dilemma is spreading into everyday life and business. At the beginning of the last century you might say the proprietor was the business: even when a deal was made by phone over thousands of miles, there was a one-to-one relationship between the proprietor’s decision and the outcome.

Compare that with a president today: I describe a national example, though something similar could soon apply to a corporate president. The president is going to make a state of the nation address to a select audience and it will be widely broadcast. The president has decided what needs to be said, but it has already been slightly modified by the PR speechwriters. The president was looking a bit pale, but the make-up artists have sorted that problem while the video team have also decided to adjust the colour profiles for a more healthy tanned complexion, and the audio engineers are fine tuning the frequency for a deeper, more authoritative voice pitch. Finally, most of the population will only see edited extracts from the speech: one edit for the business news, another for prime time viewers, and so on.

The speech is brilliant, and the voters are swayed. But who won the vote: the real live president, or the virtual image of the president that the voters experienced? If the real president suffered a sudden heart attack, how long could the digital records go on winning votes before the truth got out?

It is still natural for business to see itself in solid material terms. The reality is in the product, the manufacturing, the workforce, channel partners etc – while the data in the network is just a shadow world offering communication and keeping records. It would be too far-fetched to suggest that the physical was less real than the data, but we are getting closer to parity, especially in the service industries. “All that’s real is the bottom line!” declares the skeptic, but that bottom line is no longer a heap of gold, it is itself just a flow of data between banks.

A new mind-set is needed, one that better understands the relationship between the real and the virtual without downgrading either. On one hand there are those that would forbid an open airport as being too risky, too open to abuse and impossible to control, on the other there are those who see that it would reduce frustration, save time and boost the economy. The truth lies between: it would throw up new problems at the same time as opening doors to potential solutions.

No-one understands the need for new thinking better than the networking industry driving this virtualisation trend. New industry bodies such as the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) and CloudEthernet Forum (CEF) are bringing together users, vendors, service providers and network testers – including many active competitors – to share challenges, develop new approaches and anticipate solutions. There is a sense of urgency driven by the remarkable growth of cloud computing – too rapid progress always brings the risk of fragmentation or commitment to technological dead ends. Vital questions include: how to manage a virtual environment, how to monitor its performance and how to make it secure.

Network virtualisation could seem a very abstract topic until one begins to question the reality behind today’s business: how much of an organisation’s value lies in its material goods and how much in pure data? To what extent can we say that the information flow through the corporate network is the“real” business now, while the departments and physical systems have become the pieces on the chessboard? In this perception of the virtual enterprise, what new opportunities and threats are emerging, and what new solutions are also on offer?

These are questions that should be openly and widely discussed. In the meantime an increasing number of large enterprises are contacting test and monitoring organisations with experience in testing virtual systems to find answers and seek advice: to what extent can they ensure security, reliability and service levels in a structure that is shifting, evolving and apparently without boundaries?


EaseUS Free Data Recovery Software Recover Lost And Erased Documents

EaseUS Free Data Recovery Software Recover Lost And Erased Documents 1

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EaseUS Free Data Recovery Software Recover Lost And Erased Documents 2

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Shining a spotlight on operational resilience and cyber-risk in financial services

Shining a spotlight on operational resilience and cyber-risk in financial services 3

By Miles Tappin, VP of EMEA for ThreatConnect, explores why the financial services industry must build a cyber security strategy in 2020

The new digital landscape has welcomed financial institutions with open arms. Emerging technology such as Artificial intelligence (AI), crypto-currencies and big data have shown widespread benefits throughout the years, particularly how they have driven innovation and change. When it comes to retail banking, fintech providers have quickly taken the chance to offer personalised services to ensure they remain relevant to their target market and stand out among their competitors.

This has been particularly evident with Klarna, now Europe’s most valued fintech firm. Providing payment solutions for online storefronts, consumers are now able to shop and pay later with top retailers including the likes of H&M, Ikea and Zara. This is just one example of how easy it has become to successfully and strategically disrupt the payments sector.

With several new players entering the banking scene, traditional financial institutions are making sure that they stay one step ahead and are developing robust digital ecosystems that deliver omnichannel service models. However, this comes at a price. As technological change becomes part and parcel to remaining relevant in the sector, the industry needs to be aware of the cyber security challenges that may present themselves and how to overcome them.

2020: The year for cybercriminals targeting financial services

2020 has become a definitive year for cybersecurity in the financial services industry. Financial institutions are a lucrative target – they hold highly sensitive information and have a mandate to protect the personal information of their customers. It started with an unprecedented attack against Travelex where hackers successfully took some of the currency providers offline for nearly a month. Then came Coronavirus which sparked a new wave of malware and phishing threats. Research from VMware Carbon Black Cloud revealed that threats against financial institutions have surged by 238% since the start of the pandemic.

The renewed interest from cyber criminals comes at a time when regulators are paying close attention to the resilience of the sector. After a string of IT failures and breaches, financial organisations in the UK have been given a mandate from regulators to improve operational resilience. This means ensuring business models can withstand disruptive events from hackers or adversaries and quickly recover to protect the stability of financial systems.

In December 2019, the UK’s financial regulators published a series of consultation papers outlining their proposed approach to achieving greater operational resilience. The proposals suggested that financial institutions will be required to map out the systems and processes that support business services in order to identify any potential vulnerabilities that would pose a risk to the stability of the UK financial system or the firm’s standing.

Working together in tandem

Where cybersecurity used to be a classic back-office concern, it’s now a central part of digital strategies and a key pillar of both reputation and customer retention – financial legislation leaves no room for failure. All financial institutions need to ensure they have full visibility of their systems and can detect any potential threats.

The challenge for financial institutions is making the security tools they have purchased separately work together in tandem. Security teams buy a firewall, an email filter, threat intelligence feeds, antivirus software or enhanced endpoint protection, and whatever else they need individually. Each of them does a good job but they don’t talk to each other and valuable time is lost tending to individual systems that become a burden to run. At the same time, running multiple security systems is expensive. The more systems you have, the more highly skilled staff you need to manage them, and they’re few and far between.

The importance of sharing across communities

To reduce complexity and simplify decision making, financial organisations need to unify processes and technology to harness the security intelligence that comes from across their own security programmes and external sources to drive down risk. However, no financial institution can tackle the problem alone. Experienced threat actors using advanced techniques are constantly targeting the financial sector. The industry needs to come together as a whole to foster a sense of collaboration and data sharing.

Miles Tappin

Miles Tappin

In the same way that financial institutions have introduced open banking to deliver a fairer service to customers, the same needs to apply to security – all parts of the financial ecosystem need to unite and share information to learn from one another and succeed in the fight against adversaries that operate across borders.

By sharing alerts on cyber hazards and risk across financial institutions and with law enforcement, government agencies and other relevant authorities, it’s possible to build industry specific insights into cyber security threats and quickly pivot to gain more information on those specific threats and threat actors. By working together, a picture can be painted on threats coming from all manner of malicious activity, from malware to ransomware, to phishing and software vulnerabilities.

Creating a single source of intelligence

Having the right intelligence is not enough to ensure that intelligence is turned into action. Breaking down information and process silos across security teams allows financial organisation to analyse and act on the most pertinent information. Everyone has access to the risk and threats that matter most, and orchestration and automation of response helps overwhelmed security teams prioritise response plans and improve efficiencies in their security programme.

Integrating internal security tools and technologies, while also connecting to external sources of intelligence, creates a single source of intelligence that feeds operations and enables organisations to direct action against the threats that matter most. The outcomes of those actions further feed intelligence, providing the ability to further refine the efficacy of the entire security lifecycle.

This approach provides a continuous feedback loop for the people, processes and technologies that make up the security programme. It allows financial institutions to keep up with threat actors that have consistently adapted their methods to profit at the expense of the financial industry. Something that won’t stop anytime soon.

While financial services institutions tend to operate with security front of mind, there is still an opportunity to collaborate more within the industry and increase intelligence sharing, so CSOs and CTOs can understand as much as they can about the threats they are facing. For example, what types or variants of malware have been used to steal, delete, or ransom personal identifiable information or IP specific to financial services? What ransomware has been used in attacks against other organisations within the industry? How does this ransomware work and how does it ransom the targeted data? Ultimately, the more you know, the better and quicker you’ll be able to respond to a new threat and remain protected.

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Blackline reveals CEO succession plan

Blackline reveals CEO succession plan 4

By President & COO Marc Huffman appointed CEO as of Jan. 1st, 2021;
Founder Therese Tucker to serve as executive chair

Accounting automation software leader BlackLine, Inc. (Nasdaq: BL) today announced that the board of directors has elected Marc Huffman as chief executive officer, effective January 1st, 2021.  Mr. Huffman currently serves as president and chief operating officer.  Therese Tucker, who has served as CEO since founding BlackLine in 2001, will continue to serve on the company’s board as executive chair.

A seasoned SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) executive with more than 25 years of experience driving growth at successful software companies, Huffman joined BlackLine in early 2018 as chief operating officer.  He was named president in February 2020, leading the company’s worldwide sales, marketing, technology and all customer-facing organizations.  Since Huffman joined, BlackLine has scaled its sales and customer success teams, strategically repositioned its go-to-market plan, completed a global reseller agreement with SAP, established a subsidiary in Japan, and entered into a number of strategic alliances with the world’s leading consulting and advisory firms.

Prior to BlackLine, Huffman served as president of worldwide sales and distribution at NetSuite.  During his 14-year tenure, NetSuite grew from $3 million to $1 billion in annual revenue and became recognized as a global SaaS powerhouse.

“I’ve been so pleased with the leadership Marc has demonstrated over the past two and a half years, most recently driving our response to the COVID-19 pandemic – mitigating disruption to the business and our customers.  Because of Marc’s leadership, skill set, cultural alignment and stellar performance, BlackLine is in a better position to grow and scale than ever before,” said Ms. Tucker.  “I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved at BlackLine and believe Marc is the kind of leader I can trust to take our customer-centric values, vision and growth to the next level.  I am also thrilled that in addition to providing strategic oversight as executive chair, I will now have more time to focus on the areas I love most – product innovation and customer success.”

The announced transition is part of a multi-year succession plan that has involved seeking potential successors, bringing the right person on board, seeing that person excel, and Tucker and Huffman working methodically together over several years to build out the leadership team and strategic growth plan and ensure values were aligned.

“I am ready and excited for this next step.  BlackLine is a special place with a strong culture and I am looking forward to leading the company through its next phase of growth,” said Huffman.  “We’ve got the team, the plan, and now we are focused on execution as we continue to scale the business and make BlackLine an indispensable platform for Finance & Accounting organizations globally.”

Commenting on the CEO and executive chair changes, John Brennan, BlackLine’s chairman of the board, said, “We are excited to announce Marc’s appointment as CEO.  His experience successfully expanding and scaling NetSuite into new strategic and geographical markets is invaluable as BlackLine continues to penetrate what we believe is still an untapped market.  Coupled with his proven track record at BlackLine we are confident that, under Marc’s leadership, the company’s momentum, growth and success will only accelerate.”

Mr. Brennan added, “Therese has been a strong and inspirational leader since she founded BlackLine just over 19 years ago.  Her unwavering determination and commitment to both customers and employees has been the driving force behind the company’s incredible journey from start-up to global market leader.  We look forward to having her serve as executive chair, a position in which she will continue to shape the future of the company she has built from the ground up.”

Upon Tucker’s assumption of the executive chair role, Brennan will serve as the board’s lead outside director.

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