/As the internet moves to the cloud, Cisco is making cybersecurity a priority

As the internet moves to the cloud, Cisco is making cybersecurity a priority

The physical shape of the internet is changing, and as it does, Cisco Systems Inc. is making big investments in cybersecurity to position itself as a leader in the new structure.

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins was in Toronto for the Fortune Global Forum last week and spoke with the Financial Post about those changes, first among them the migration from localized networks to cloud-based services.

“It’s going to really require us to help customers to re-architect their entire infrastructure over the next five years, which is a massive shift from the networks that they’ve been running for the past decade,” Robbins said.

“The assumption was, all the traffic is flowing back to my private data centre. Now that assumption is completely invalid. In fact, it’s not going to one place, it’s going to 150 different places.”

Under the old paradigm, most companies would maintain their own private networks, with a room full of servers, and limited access to the outside world. Under that system, the predominant method of cybersecurity was a firewall — basically, a system that examines data packets for anything that looks like malware or a virus, and blocks it from entering the system.

But Robbins — whose company acquired Duo Security for US$2.35 billion in August — said that as companies embrace cloud-based services, and internet-connected devices and sensors, the so-called internet of things (IoT), the only effective way to do cybersecurity is by watching the flows of data as you manage the whole network.

“Let me take a run at helping you understand the architecture that we’ve been building in security, which I think three years from now everyone is really going to understand why this is where we have to be,” Robbins said.

“Instead of having a firewall, we’ve built a state machine in the cloud that we feed threat information to — from endpoints, from email, from the network, from cloud applications, from SaaS applications. We take in all this threat intelligence and we correlate all of it in real time, and then all of those devices that are providing the threat intelligence, once we see something new then we dynamically update all those defence systems.”

Right now, he said that Cisco is blocking something like 20 billion threats a day across various networks, because most security threats are based on exploiting old bugs and reusing old malware, trying to sneak into systems that haven’t been patched and updated yet.

Moreover, Robbins said that a company like Cisco is uniquely situated to do this kind of cybersecurity work because they have the expertise with network management, and as a manufacturer of high-performance routers and switches, they can build the kit to do this kind of work within networks.

While in Toronto, Robbins spoke about corporate social responsibility at the Fortune Global Forum, and he announce a partnership with Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to help use Cisco’s expertise to use technology to improve access to mental health services.

Robbins said he thinks some technology companies have been too quiet when it comes to the philanthropic work they do, when it comes to expanding access to the internet and the capabilities that come with it.

“Clearly, you connect people and then you educate people and then you give them opportunity, and hopefully they participate at a higher level after that in this global economic expansion that we’re seeing right now,” he said.

“I think 55 per cent of the world today is actually connected, so there’s still massive new opportunity being created for people who didn’t have it before.”

Robbins talked about the work of Cisco as a sort of essential service, like a utility. He said that these days Cisco has a truck called Network Emergency Response Vehicle (NERV) that acts as a sort of internet first-responder.

“Our guys are the first guys on the ground after a hurricane or a natural disaster. I mean, when we see something coming, we park our teams just out of harm’s way, then as soon as it’s over, they’re in. They’re in because they have to bring up communications infrastructure for first-responders to respond,” Robbins said,

“Lots of businesses are doing these kinds of things, and in the past we have done them because they were the right thing to do, and now the world is looking for us to play more of that role, so we have to first educate the world as to the things we’re already doing, and then probably continue to do more.”