Web Isolation and Secure Web Gateways with Menlo Security

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, many enterprises have implemented remote work policies to monitor network traffic and protect sensitive data. Organizations have been adjusting and adopting new practices and technologies to improve data security across cloud-based environments.

In this episode of TechStrong TV, Nick Edwards, vice president of product management at Menlo Security, joins Mitch Ashley to discuss the move from network and application firewalls to creating web isolation, using secure web gateways for updated, contemporary cloud security.

The video is immediately below, followed by the transcript of the conversation. Enjoy!


Mitch Ashley: I have the distinct pleasure of being joined by Nick Edwards. Nick is VP of product management at Menlo Security. Welcome, Nick—good to be talking to you.

Nick Edwards: Hey, Mitch, thank you. Glad to be here.

Ashley: Excellent. Well, tell us a little bit about yourself, and tell us a little bit about Menlo Security for folks who may not know much about Menlo.

Edwards: Sure, yeah. So, I am VP of product management at Menlo Security. So, my team is responsible for kind of product direction and definition of our company and where we’re taking our product line. 

I came from somewhat of a circuitous background. I spent time in the Navy, I was a Submarine Officer, so I kinda feel like I’ve been, you know, in the good guys versus bad guys world for a while. And, you know, cyber security has always been something that’s kind of near and dear to my hart, just because, as a society, I think technology can bring on so many positive changes, but it’s unfortunate that we have to deal with this overall drag of embracing it because people are capitalizing on it.

Ashley: Mm-hmm.

Edwards: And Menlo was started with the fundamental notion that how we’ve been going around fighting security is just not keeping pace with kind of where the bad guys are and where the threats are. You know, in the traditional world, it’s around letting traffic in and then inspecting it. You know, you basically put the traffic stream underneath the magnifying glass, you have the Petri dish, “Is this a virus, is this malware, is this phishing?” or whatever it may be. And the industry has gotten a lot better at detection, but the bad guys only have to be right once.

And so, our fundamental approach is different, which is—you know what? We’re gonna not let anything in, and instead, we’re gonna give you a clean stream that is reconstructed via our technology called isolation. And so, you’ve probably heard this term of web isolation—that’s what the company was founded on, and that’s what we do. And it’s been primarily made more simple to adopt and execute on by the advent of cloud computing and the capabilities that are continuing to expand kind of on that front. So, we’re excited to be here, excited to talk to you more about it, and let me know what you think about, what you wanna talk about.

Ashley: Cool. Well, you know, as more and more of the network stack has been virtualized and turned into software, it makes sense that you’d see innovations like what Menlo Security is doing, right? Because you can do things very quickly and innovate very quickly in that space. And it’s kind of interesting to me that—you know, we hear about network isolation in WiFi and other technologies, because the pipes are just getting bigger, of course.

Edwards: Mm-hmm.

Ashley: And just, that much more of trying to inspect as it’s coming in in real time, it makes sense that—I can see how reconstructing that web stream, as you’re talking about.

I’d love to get your perspective of what’s the thing that somebody goes, “You know what, we need a secure web gateway instead of what we have”—what is the impetus, or impetuses, if that’s a word, to say, “I need to get to the next thing, because this ain’t workin’ for me”?

Edwards: So, I think a couple of factors. I think one, and we saw COVID and the work-from-home dynamic of the past year expedite this, is just that when you and I were growing up in the office of 20 or 30 years ago, everyone got in their car, they drove to the parking lot, they walked in, their computer was waiting for them, and everything was in one location. And that made it easy to apply security and controls. 

I remember my first spam message that I got, you know, in 2001 and I thought that was really weird. And I remember not being able to go to certain websites, and it was very easy to do that because everyone was in one location or, okay, maybe a big multi-national had three different locations, but it was all connected to the same network and it was easy to provide policy, and kind of what proxies merged from that environment.

Now, you fast forward even to 2019, you know, roughly 20% of the workforce worked remotely. Then, during COVID, it quickly became 75% or greater. And so, with that, it meant that everyone is everywhere. You know, you might be at home, at a coffee shop, in the old days at a WeWork or something. And in that environment, it was very difficult to apply security based off of different devices they were accessing the Internet with, what they were doing, where they were coming from, and COVID just made that worse.

So, I think what we’re seeing in our customer base, the people we’re talking to is, they realize that they’ve been kind of using Band-Aids to hold the old notion together, but they realize that the cloud offers a new way to think about things. And it isn’t just taking the old widgets and just dumping it in a VM, it’s about—hey, is there a way to fundamentally rethink how we can leverage this technology to advance our business needs?

And I think all that combination of factors, you know, different users coming from different places, different devices, what they’re trying to do, applying policy based off the context of the user—all those factors have combined to really, I think, kind of introduce this tipping point of new ways of thinking about leveraging technology. I think web gateways delivered via cloud form factor is one of the primary kind of locomotives for people to rethink about their architecture.

Ashley: It’s interesting you say that. I’ve had several discussions in the last month or so about, as people are thinking about a hybrid office or something about returning to the office, it’s really easy to kinda fall back into, “Well, let’s do what we’ve been doing, right, and make some adjustments.” And I had to go through this transition, actually, a few years before this of thinking about it as just a work anywhere strategy, whether they’re sitting in Starbuck’s or sitting in the United Club, they’re in London or Denver or South Florida—wherever they are, or in an office, or at home, or on the beach or whatever, you just have to think about it.

And I think that was one of the choke points we ran into with COVID was, the natural tendency was, “Well, okay, swing all the traffic onto the corporate VPN, push it all through our existing pipes” and sometimes, that can fall apart on you, right?

Edwards: Yeah.

Ashley: It’s just so much of a big swing. How do people need to rethink this, you know, thinking in a secure gateway, web gateway mode?

Edwards: Yeah, so, I think that whole trend that we described of, “Put everyone on the VPN” and then—uh oh, VPNs can’t keep up, call up our VPN vendor, give us 50 more boxes. 

I think what we’re seeing customers re-evaluate is, instead of giving everyone access to everything, let’s flip it on the head and say, “Let’s give them access to only what they need.” And this notion of zero trust is what is kind of capturing this movement, you know? “Okay, we know this is who you are, this is your role. You may be a salesperson—you don’t need to have access to Jira or Jenkins or these development tools, but maybe you need to have access to our CRM system, our customer application for managing pricing and quotes and all this kinda stuff.”

So, zero trust [Video freezes].

Ashley: Oh, we lost Nick, there. Let’s see if he comes back—oh, there, you’re back.

Edwards: Okay.

Ashley: Okay, so, just, why don’t you re-start with, you were talking about Salesforce and getting access to the applications, you don’t need Jenkins and Jira and stuff. So, you can just pick up on—so, zero trust in a secure gateway, web gateway means this.

Edwards: Yeah. So, zero trust in a secure gateway mans that, instead of giving users the ability to go wherever they want just because they’ve authenticated, you give them the ability to access the content that they need associated with who they are and their job. You know, a sales rep might need access to certain applications that an engineer might not need access to.

The VPN model allows anyone who gets connected to have access to whatever, and cyber criminals realize that and they can move around laterally and they can exploit that. And a similar type of construct applies when you’re facing the Internet side of the network. Get people access to what they need and secured gateways via the cloud have much more granular capabilities to do that with tools like CASB, DLP inspection. 

I think cloud gives the ability to do things at scale that on premise proxies can’t. So, for example, something as seemingly mature and pedestrian as SSL inspection, you know, that’s been around a while, but I remember in the old days, having to scale X number of proxies to be able to address the traffic. Now, almost any website that is being used in a professional manner has SSL and cloud allows you to inspect that very easily and very seamlessly. 

And on a Menlo perspective, zero trust says, “Hey, look, for Internet related applications, deploy the same type of mentality,” except you flip it on its head and say—don’t trust any of this content from these websites. Okay, maybe you wanna trust O365 for Microsoft, dedicated IP space, domains, you may wanna do that. Or Zoom, for example. But other than that, you might wanna say, “Let’s just allow a clean stream to come in.” And that’s what Menlo does with our isolation by kinda stripping away all the active content, rewriting the web traffic, and giving this native experience to users in a way that doesn’t disrupt their flow or doesn’t require another agent to be deployed on their endpoint.

Ashley: Plus you have the scalability of the cloud, right? So, you’re not looking to add another box, right, to do this.

Edwards: Yeah.

Ashley: It’s, “Okay, great, traffic doubles, we’ve got the resources right there to handle it.”

Edwards: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. And, you know, there are some vendors out there, I think, in the cloud web gateway world who have done a lot to mature the industry’s understanding of it. But there’s, again, I mentioned this earlier that properly capitalizing on the benefits of the cloud doesn’t mean taking what you were doing on premise and then just dumping it in a cloud data center. 

It gives the opportunity to think about things anew and potentially consider new architectures, and leverage the autoscaling of public cloud infrastructure where it makes sense, leverage the near infinite compute and all these things where it makes sense, but still be able to deliver the same type of capabilities. And that was kind of the approach that Menlo took, being kind of more of a cloud native security company delivering these capabilities to our customers.

Ashley: Mm-hmm. I wonder, too, if—you know, we have different software architectures that can tend to be more porous, you know, with microservices, service mesh, et cetera. We have hybrid, multi-cloud—so, we’ve got a much more, in some ways, complex environment than we had in our on premise data center if that, I don’t know if you wouldn’t say it was complex, it was. But it’s a different world, and the pace at which it can change is so much faster. I mean, you can have an application pop up in a week or a day or an hour that wasn’t there, and now you have to be able to respond to, “Oh, sorry, we didn’t enter a ticket for security to configure us,” right?

Edwards: Yeah.

Ashley: You need to be able to react quickly. What do you think are some kinda new applications that are pushing the boundaries of security that make it easier to do it in the cloud?

Edwards: So, I mean, I think in general, there’s a proliferation of engineering teams inside organizations that are adopting the same type of model of just rapid iteration and agile development for their own products that they’re releasing to their customers. And so, the companies that we’ve seen are some that, they may actually use a combination of AWS or Azure or Google, but they’ll also probably use some of their own data center infrastructure that they’ve already leveraged in a model that is very similar to AWS.

So, I think this notion of customers going through this migration path, of going from all on prem, maybe with a target of landing with nearly all SaaS, there will be this period of kind of hybrid modes where multi-clouds exist, their own or a public cloud. And I think what we see is customers kind of chipping away at this over time, and an application that was on prem, they say, “Okay, let’s run it in our own kind of cloud data center type of thing” and then slowly migrate that over to AWS or whatever.

So, we see a lot of this kind of sequenced staging of applications and assets, and with that, it means that the data ends up living in these different places as the application evolves. So, from our perspective, this requires of our customers a rethinking not only of the technology assets, but also the team structure and the profile of the teams. All these teams have to have some level of application understanding, scripting, automation capabilities, whether you’re the application developers or the networking teams, or the SOC teams. 

And I think the vendors who will end up winning in this world from a security perspective will build security tools that play well in that environment. So, we’re talking about having APIs that will work with their SOC teams, have APIs that will work with, come to their networking teams, so if they need to make network changes quickly, then the cloud applications will be able to respond accordingly.

And so, in that world, it helps kind of being API friendly and kind of cloud native, because hopefully, that will easily extend to the environments that we’re deploying in from a customer point of view.

Ashley: There we go. I keep hitting my mute button. You’d think I’d be used to this by now. [Laughter] You mentioned several things I thought were really interesting, and one of them is that, we’re using many, many more SaaS applications, as you referred to, Office 365 as well as SaaS applications, but think how much more Slack and Team and other online non-premise applications that are being used in the cloud. And a lot of times, those things don’t go through IT, and maybe the Finance Department does their own conversion from what they’re using to some cloud financial system or adding other apps to what they’re doing.

It seems like that ability to be able to isolate some of those environments, make sure that SSL is being used across all of that, and making sure that it’s not a bigger pipe into a bigger world that’s opening up the rest of the network through somebody else’s service is a huge value, and having that visibility is super important.

Edwards: Yeah, I completely agree. And I think one of the things, when we talk about isolation as a technology construct, not only do we essentially kind of rewrite the web stream that lands on your browser, we also have a similar capability of doing that for documents.

So, for example, a good application is exactly what you mentioned with SaaS services, and let’s say you’re posting something on Dropbox or maybe you’re accessing something from webmail. Well, what we see customers wanting to do with our CASB solution is say, “Hey, look, we know there’s all these SaaS apps. There’s a world that we know are sanctioned by our company based off policy. So, we’re gonna let people do what they need to do there, maybe insert security for file scanning and all that kinda stuff. But if it’s an unsanctioned application, maybe we want our employees to still be able to go to webmail, but we don’t want them to necessarily download documents and potentially infect our environment.”

So, what they can use Menlo’s approach for is to basically use isolation of the document. In this case, the document gets kind of rendered as a safe .pdf, so someone can actually still access it. You know, because IT Departments don’t want to be Dr. No and just say you can’t do anything, because in today’s environment, you know, younger employees, Millennials, that doesn’t work for them. But I think people realize that there is a balance between security and still being able to do your job and maintain your own kind of life.

So, with unsanctioned applications, we’ll give people the ability to actually still go to these applications, but then use isolation to render documents in a secure fashion, or render the content in a secure fashion to give kinda the IT teams maximum flexibility based off policy and the use cases of the users. And I think that’s something that kinda gives the users the ability to strike the right balance based off their employee base and their business needs.

Ashley: Mm-hmm. I think that’s a really good point. Where do people typically make this transition to a secure web gateway? Is it, “I’m in the process of moving to cloud, I’m setting up my infrastructure, getting ready to move my apps and interconnect with third party apps that I’m using, let me set it up then” or is it oftentimes, “No, I’m in the cloud, I’ve gotta figure out a better way to do security. Let me add a secure web gateway to it”?

Edwards: Yeah, so, I would say there are kinda two types of customers, as you alluded to. There’s next gen companies who were born in the cloud and they’ve only ever known the cloud, you know? Like, consider any of your contemporary startups that are now successful public companies. They were predominantly born in the cloud, they might have added some on prem stuff for a variety of use cases, but predominantly, they’re cloud first, and they’re a different type of sell and they get it, and they understand it. And, as they have their workforce more broadly deployed, it just makes sense for them to have a way to instrument policy and security across their workforce.

The customers who are coming from an on-prem environment, maybe traditional large financial institutions, health care, maybe military and defense environments—for them, I think, we’ve seen an acceleration of their adoption over the past several years, and really culminating with COVID as they realized, “Hey, look, this is just very problematic and costly and the TCO associated with maintaining this is problematic.” Main drivers that are the tipping point—remote us, SSL inspection and just having to deploy another box to do CPU intensive scanning. And I think just this overall notion that they realize that the SaaS adoption of all these applications, it’s here to stay, you’re not getting that genie back in the bottle. Oh, and by the way, it is making the company more effective, efficient, and in a more cost friendly manner—so, how can we find a way to embrace that trend and make our business more successful during this march toward digital transformation, but do it in a way that aligns with our own cadence of adoption?

And I think those trends kinda culminate, and we’ll see a lot of customers start with the kind of CASB use case of securing these applications and doing it in a way that makes sense for their policy, DLP, and security related reasons, and that’s one of the main drivers we’ll see for a lot of our customer engagements when they’re coming from on prem.

Ashley: Interesting, too. I can totally see that evolution that people have to go through.

Edwards: Yeah.

Ashley: Are there any operational considerations that folks need to make in thinking about security differently? Is it different from an operational world making it easier, less false alarms, those kinda things? Because we’re adding more stuff, right? I had a CISO tell me once, “Every product, I evaluate whether it adds any work. If it adds any extra work, I don’t look at it, because I just, we don’t have resources to do it. I can’t add more stuff to my team.”

Edwards: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s a very valid concern from buyers, and we hear that a lot. They don’t want more loads for the SOC team, they pretty much don’t want another pane of glass to manage, configure and look at reporting.

So, I think that all of these products need to think about it through the lens of, you know, not only who’s gonna be typing away setting policy, but also, the CIO, CISO, the people who are gonna be consuming the reporting and where they can get access to the information they need to evaluate their purchase decisions and that sort of thing.

So, I think, on that level, having an API friendly platform that can integrate seamlessly with security orchestration tools, that might be a place in the Security Operations Center that can integrate with other networking devices. All that stuff helps alleviate that friction and that pain. And I think, you know, one of the things that we’ve seen for customers who deploy Menlo is that, with isolation, we actually reduce the number of spurious alerts. Because, you know, you’re not getting all this gray area vendors who rely on detection saying, “Hey, we don’t know enough to say this is bad, but we don’t know enough to say it’s good, so we’re gonna just flag this as an orange” or, you know, whatever. [Cross talk] But hey, you’ll have a human being who can look at it and they’ll decide.

All that stuff goes away with Menlo, you know? So, what we’re able to do is just deliver this clean stream and we’ve seen multiple customers who, you know, their alerts dropped 80, 90% because of the fact that the data that they’re seeing of their users is no longer being triggered by their endpoint detection tools, these other tools that were kinda living in this gray area. And that means a lot to our customers and kinda their SOC teams.

Ashley: Cool. What does it take to set up something like this? What’s the implementation process?

Edwards: Yeah, so, there are a couple different ways. It depends on where the customers are coming from. I mean, I think the most fundamental, simple approach since it is SaaS is that they don’t need to deploy any hardware. There’s the PAC file that lives on all their endpoints, which basically will point traffic from their computers, laptops, et cetera to our cloud form factor, and that’s easily disseminated. Or in some cases, they might want to route traffic from their firewalls or other upstream network devices to us.

All those things typically take less than one business day, you know, to get up and running. And we’ve had customers, one of our biggest accounts is the Defense Information Security Agency, and they’ve entered into a long-term business relationship with Menlo, and they have all these different teams who are deploying our technology. You know, different military groups, different defense agencies. And it’s basically, “Hey, Menlo, we need to get up and running on this particular agency” and it usually can happen within a matter of several days at a maximum. We’ve had customers scale to tens of thousands of users in a matter of hours. 

And that’s, again, leveraging the benefits of cloud computing. You know, in the old days, it would be, “Okay, let’s have a pilot for a couple users, and let’s get one or two boxes—okay, great. Let’s do the math. Okay, we have 10,000 users, we need 5 more boxes.” And then if they need to scale quickly, then they’ve gotta make a phone call, I’ll have the box get shipped and all that kinda stuff—cloud takes all that headache, all that thrash away, and you can just leverage the autoscaling that’s inherent in cloud computing. And I think that’s something that really will help expedite the adoption of this as customers become more and more comfortable with security and the compliance associated with it.

Ashley: I’m glad to hear that. You gave me a few flashbacks to the, “Where is it? It’s in shipping? Okay. Who’s gonna rack and stack it? Okay. Who’s configuring it? Okay. Who’s putting testing and putting in for”—you know? Whoa.

Edwards: Yeah, yeah, the weekend change requests, you know, [Cross talk] by the IT guy coming in on Saturday night, you know? All that stuff, a lot of that pain has gone away by the new form factors.

Ashley: Mm-hmm. Cool. How do folks get ahold of this, get access, try it out? Where do they go?

Edwards: Yeah so, come to MenloSecurity.com, we have a Contact Us, you can try now. We have ways where you can kind of go down the self-service path to play around with it and see that, you know, try menlo.com. Or just feel free to shoot me an e-mail directly, you know, Nick.Edwards@menlosecurity, happy to help point you in the right direction and to cut through all the red tape. You know, we have customers who call up on a Monday with a security issue, we can be out and deployed within that week to get them the security they need, and we’re happy to help customers meet them where they are.

Ashley: Excellent. Cool. Well, it was really fun talking to you, Nick. Thanks for joining me today and haring more about secure web gateway technology and services that you guys offer from Menlo Security.

Edwards: Alright. Thanks a lot, Mitch. I appreciate you having me. I appreciate it. See ya.

Ashley:  You bet. Look forward to talking with you again. Join me in thanking Nick Edwards for joining us today, VP of product management with Menlo Security.

Edwards: Thanks.

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