The critical role of lifecycle management in maintaining strong cybersecurity

Ryan Zatolokin

In the wake of an increasing number of publicized data breaches, cybersecurity has become, if it already hasn’t, a main priority for all organizations. The need to protect networks and systems from unauthorized and unwanted intrusion is real, and if you’re not vigilant, the results—ranging from loss of customer confidence to business closure—can be catastrophic.

The unfortunate reality of our connected world is that all devices and systems can be vulnerable. Well aware of the critical need to secure their networks, many organizations today have deployed the most advanced software technologies and solutions for that purpose. While these measures have proven effective and have made it more difficult for bad guys to access networks, they represent only part of the story.

With regard to cybersecurity, there is an equally important but often overlooked component that can be crucial for ensuring networks and the critical data they contain are protected from threats and vulnerabilities: lifecycle management.

At first glance, managing the lifecycle of physical assets may seem to have little connection with protecting digital assets, but this is far from reality. In truth, cybersecurity challenges have become a primary driver for lifecycle management and vice versa.

Lifecycle management encompasses two types of lifetimes that are associated with each device. The longer of the two is functional lifetime, meaning how long a device will operate and function. The second is economic lifecycle.

A device’s functional lifetime is typically longer than its economic lifetime. As better capabilities, features and functions become available, there comes a time when older technologies simply don’t make economic sense compared to adopting new, more efficient technology.

Secure systems depend on proactive maintenance

Proactive maintenance is the best way to ensure a more stable and secure system in today’s ecosystem of connected and interdependent devices and solutions. Responsible manufacturers know this and regularly release firmware updates and security patches that address vulnerabilities consistently, while also fixing any bugs and other issues that may affect performance over time.

All software-based technology must be patched to prevent attackers from exploiting known vulnerabilities, and security devices are no exception. Therefore, network administrators must stay on top of threats by maintaining their knowledge of new developments while following the latest cybersecurity best practices. Additionally, the video management system (VMS), which controls the overall system must also be regularly updated and patched, along with the operating system on which it runs.

Despite the critical need to update software when new firmware is made available, the unfortunate reality is that many organizations fail to do so, mostly because of the time and effort involved in updating each device connected to the network. A primary obstacle in this effort is that many organizations simply don’t know what technologies are deployed on their network.

Hope is not a plan

The foundation of securing an enterprise network is a solid understanding and comprehensive history of the devices that are deployed on that network, which must include documentation about every device because any overlooked device could easily become an entry point for attackers.

Older technologies represent the greatest risk to an organization for a number of reasons, including from a cybersecurity perspective. Yes, updates and patches are the best way to improve cybersecurity, but many older technologies have little to no update capabilities. In fact, they may no longer be supported by the manufacturer. Unpatched technology leaves networks vulnerable to cyberattack. But following lifecycle management best practices—such as knowing where risk areas lie and keeping current on those risks—allows you to keep your business more secure.

Regardless of their function, all technologies will eventually expire, whether through failure or obsolescence. You can hope your devices run forever, but hope is not a plan. Being engaged in a structured lifecycle management program removes the surprise and shock that comes from suddenly—and unexpectedly—needing to replace a major system component. Instead, you will be able to plan and budget for replacing a certain number or percentage of devices each year rather than facing a large, expensive replacement of an entire system or major component.

Keeping pace with threats

Lifecycle management also allows an organization to keep pace with the constantly evolving threat landscape while ensuring they are using the appropriate and most advanced technologies while minimizing security threats and vulnerabilities in the process. This is important given that security is a critical function, and a network camera outage could potentially have dire consequences. For example, the functional lifetime of an IP camera could be upwards of 10 to 15 years. During that time, security vulnerabilities will change rapidly, making it difficult for manufacturers to keep pace with the cybersecurity threat landscape.

A lifecycle management program allows you to keep on top of what is critical in your environment and helps avoid the negative costs associated with cyberbreaches. This type of program allows organizations to identify devices that are nearing end of life, which will likely have no firmware updates released, making them susceptible to risk. Additionally, some of these technologies may be running on outdated operating systems that are incapable of being updated or secured. In either case, these devices must be replaced with newer solutions that are supported by the manufacturer.

Streamlining lifecycle management

Effective lifecycle management can be a daunting task for organizations and network administrators. Thankfully there are device management software solutions that provide automation that alleviate and in many cases eliminate this often significant burden.

These technologies can implement critical lifecycle management policies and practices by automatically providing a full real-time inventory of the cameras, encoders, access control, audio and other devices connected to the network to deliver an easy, cost-effective, time-saving and secure way to manage all major installation, deployment, configuration, security and maintenance tasks.

How lifecycle management works

With our technology, Axis devices are automatically discovered on the network. Then these devices are imported into a program to display information about the device, including model, IP address, MAC address, current firmware loaded on the device and certificate status. This provides integrators, installers and system administrators with a highly detailed look at their devices, allowing them to actively engage in a variety of maintenance tasks for their customers, including user management, password changes, firmware updates and configuration changes, in an organized and efficient manner, which is a critical part of lifecycle management and cybersecurity best practices.

More so, being able to push out changes or firmware updates, rather than individually, to hundreds of devices simultaneously is crucial. This provides users with a highly efficient way to manage a large numbers of devices. A main cybersecurity component of our technology is the ability for users to easily manage the product lifecycle and set up other users and passwords. Creating security policies and applying it across multiple devices to maintain certificate and upgrade firmware has never been so easy.

For example, take managing and deploying HTTPS certificates, and uploading IEEE 802.1x certificates to multiple devices. When users are notified of expiring certificates, our technology can push new certificates to devices. It also manages firmware upgrades of multiple devices and automatically verifies that they are running the latest—and most secure—version. Users can push security settings out and configurations out to all Axis devices on the network at once. In the past, this would have been time-consuming, but today the process is more efficient and ensures devices comply with an organization’s cybersecurity configurations.

This function can save device managers a lot of time and stress when it comes to cybersecurity risk while helping them address new vulnerabilities in a timely manner. Ordinarily, when a vulnerability is announced, people tend to panic and try to figure out whether the devices they have on their network may be at risk. Our technology eliminates that sense of panic, serving as an integral component of a proactive plan. This allows you to know in where they stand on the cybersecurity front and what steps need to be taken, ensuring that vulnerabilities are addressed in a timely and consistent manner, which leads to a more stable and secure system.

In addition to improving cybersecurity, device managers can also obtain a wide breadth of information that is helpful for planning their lifecycle management and device replacement schedule. IT departments prefer to never swap out all devices at once, but rather plan for periodic, predictable replacement.

The nature of our interconnected world makes cybersecurity everyone’s concern. State-of-the-art software solutions are a good starting point for protecting networks, but in order to be most effective, these technologies must be augmented by strong lifecycle management practices. We have developed technologies that provide all the necessary tools to protect businesses like yours. They can automate lifecycle management processes to provide organizations with the real-time insight required to ensure that devices are up to date with the latest patches and updates provided by manufacturers while also making them better prepared to deal with inevitable device failures.