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NTT: Businesses face cybersecurity risk due to surge in obsolete network devices

Investment in the cloud is outpacing organisations' on-premises infrastructure spend, as businesses move applications to multi-cloud environments. 

That's according to the 2020 Global Network Insights Report from NTT Ltd, which says this has caused refresh and upgrade patterns to slow down, with many businesses choosing to continue to sweat network assets and to slow investment in re-architecting their on-premises network and security infrastructure.

As a result, there has been an increase in obsolete and unpatched network devices containing software vulnerabilities, introducing risk, and exposing the organisation to information security threats.

The report, which is based on data from technology assessments conducted on more than 1,000 clients covering over 800,000 network devices, found 46.3% of organisations network assets were ageing or obsolete, as a weighted average, representing a huge surge on 2017, when this figure was just 4.3%.

The COVID-19 outbreak and consequent surge in bandwidth consumption is putting strain on the network, compounding existing challenges, and, ultimately, creating a perfect storm, according to the report. 

With an increase in remote working, remote access and consumption of voice and video services, organisations network and security infrastructure are under incredible pressure.

"In this new normal many businesses will need, if not be forced, to review their network and security architecture strategies, operating and support models to better manage operational risk," says Rob Lopez, executive vice president, Intelligent Infrastructure, NTT Ltd. 

"We expect to see strategy shift from a focus on business continuity to preparation for the future as lockdown begins to ease.," he says.

"Network infrastructure needs to be appropriately architected and managed to deal with unplanned surges, which will require a relook at cloud and on-premises infrastructure to reduce the impact and frequency of business-critical outages."

 According to the report, obsolete devices have, on average, twice as many vulnerabilities per device (42.2) when compared with ageing (26.8) and current ones (19.4), creating unnecessary risk. 

This risk is exacerbated further when businesses do not patch a device or revisit the operating system version for the duration of its lifetime. And although patching is relatively simple, and often free under a maintenance agreement or extended warranty, many businesses still don't patch their devices.

"In the new normal, as businesses reimagine the way we work, embedding resilience into the organisation's operations will be key," the report says.

The pandemic will introduce permanent changes to the way businesses operate, including implementing smart workspaces that accommodate social distancing within their physical offices, while many companies will continue to embrace remote working. 

Meanwhile, with the adoption of new wireless infrastructure on the rise an increase of 13% year-on-year and the rise of open office and co-working spaces, a novel approach to all network architecture will be needed.

"Businesses will need the tools, knowledge and expertise to be able to re-architect the network for the short, mid and long-term evolution of the new normal with people working remotely, and from any device at any time," Lopez says . 

"They will need to find strategic partners who can guide them with a view of what the future network looks like not just in terms of supporting corporate space, but also public and retail areas where social distancing is typically difficult to attain. 

"For example, as we move into the new normal, AI and machine learning may be applied to help monitor social distancing measures the network will be the platform enabler," he says.

 As part of digital transformation strategies, leading organisations are already using networks to enable new business models (e.g. the Internet of Things) or optimise existing operating models (e.g. asset tracking), according to the report.

Alternatively, businesses may be investing in technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA), as part of their digital transformation initiatives in order to save cost and scale services in an agile manner. No matter what the reason; digital transformation is helping to improve the customer and employee experience, powered by the network. 

These initiatives will only be accelerated with the support of relevant, secure infrastructure in the new normal especially with respect to businesses technology, operational and financial initiatives, it says.

"The network is the platform for business digital transformation. It needs to be ubiquitous, flexible, robust and secure to adapt easily to business change, while increasing the maturity of the operational support environment," Lopez says.

"Businesses that use a high-level of network automation and intelligence to optimise operations will gain a significant competitive advantage and realise the benefits of the cloud economy, securely."