What Is Security Architecture?
Security architecture is the strategic design of systems, policies and technologies to protect IT and business assets from cyberthreats. A well-designed security architecture aligns cybersecurity with the unique business goals and risk management profile of the organization.
Security teams and hackers are often locked in an arms race — competing to outmaneuver each other. But for organizations to come out ahead, they must shift their risk management approach from reactive to proactive. That means building in security from the beginning instead of fixing breaches only when they occur.
A robust security architecture ensures that organizations have the IT infrastructure to properly prevent, detect and respond to attacks. It also helps determine when and which technologies to implement, giving security decision-makers the ability to add new capabilities as the threat landscape evolves.
Key Objectives of Security Architecture
The main objective of cybersecurity architecture is to reduce the risk of security breaches and protect organizations from threat actors. Embedding security into business operations is a core element of that goal.
Today’s CISOs and their teams grapple with distributed and borderless security environments due to multicloud, hybrid work, digital transformation, the internet of things (IoT) and other key business trends. Naturally, attack surfaces are growing exponentially alongside these major shifts, and adversaries find new ways to exploit weaknesses:
- Organizations are under constant threat of attack, including denial of service, data theft, ransomware and extortion.
- Attackers are more sophisticated through the use of automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).
- Attackers have access to larger sources of funding, sometimes through government sponsors or organized crime.
- They also have access to tools such as ransomware as a service (RaaS).
- A distributed workforce increases the risk of internal breaches caused by malicious insiders and/or negligence or ignorance by employees.
Security architects closely examine existing processes, technologies and models to understand where there are gaps. They then build a framework to mitigate the potential damage cyberthreats can inflict.
As today’s threat landscape grows in complexity, having a well-designed security architecture is table stakes for every organization. It’s not only a safeguard against modern cyberattacks, but a key enabler of digital transformation, innovation, customer trust and business growth.
Benefits of Security Architecture
1. Reduce Security Breaches
Organizations with a robust cybersecurity architecture don’t simply react to breaches when they occur—they drastically reduce the volume and severity of threats, if not prevent them altogether.
At the same time, security embedded into an organization’s DNA (such as Zero Trust) ensures that security is a vital part of every development cycle. This eliminates gaps and enables a risk-free environment for DevOps to build and innovate.
2. Speed Up Response Times
Skilled hackers can easily identify and exploit disconnects in infrastructure. That’s why many of today’s breaches are the result of breakdowns in security processes.
A strong security architecture closes those gaps and provides protocols in the event of a breach. Security teams are equipped to respond immediately and eliminate threats — oftentimes with cybersecurity automation — before they become a larger problem.
3. Improve Operational Efficiency
Enterprises employ 31.5 cybersecurity tools on average, bolting on more products as needed. But the increasing complexity of IT infrastructure can often cause gaps in risk posture — on top of costing time, money and talent to manage the architecture.
An efficient security architecture — such as those built on cybersecurity consolidation — is designed with fewer products and vendors. Tools are integrated, where critical updates, threat response and user experiences are all closely managed. This creates a highly scalable cyber infrastructure that maximizes operational efficiency.
4. Comply with Industry Regulations
Organizations everywhere around the world adhere to the regulations set by their region and industry. For example, healthcare providers in the US must comply with HIPAA regulations, while businesses in the EU must meet GDPR requirements.
Creating a strong security architecture and incorporating security into every part of the organization not only helps prevent cyberattacks but also ensures compliance with relevant authorities and regulations.
Frameworks and Standards for Cybersecurity Architecture
Security architects typically use standard frameworks to build their infrastructure. A security architecture framework is a set of consistent guidelines and principles for implementing different levels of an enterprise security architecture. Organizations often combine elements of each of these standard frameworks to build the design of the cybersecurity architecture.
The three standard frameworks used by many security architects are:
The Open Group Architecture Framework helps determine which problems need to be solved within the security infrastructure in an enterprise. Its primary focus is on the organization’s goal and scope, as well as the preliminary phases of security architecture. TOGAF does not give specific guidance on ways to address security issues.
The Sherwood Applied Business Security Architecture is a policy-driven framework. It helps define the critical questions that security architecture can only answer: what, why, when and who.
The goal of SABSA is to ensure that after the design of security services, they are then delivered and supported as an integral part of the enterprise’s IT management. However, while often described as a “security architecture method,” SABSA doesn’t go into specifics for technical implementation.
The Open Security Architecture (OSA) is a framework related to technical and functional security controls. OSA offers a comprehensive overview of crucial security components, principles, issues and concepts that underlie architectural decisions involved in designing effective security architectures.
Typically, OSA is only used if the security architecture has already been designed.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) also provides guidance. The NIST Framework for Improving Cybersecurity Infrastructure provides a common framework for organizations to:
- Describe their current infrastructure
- Describe their target state for cybersecurity
- Identify and prioritize opportunities for improvement within the context of a continuous and repeatable process
- Assess progress toward the target state
- Communicate among internal and external stakeholders about cybersecurity risk
NIST provides a framework core that describes a set of cybersecurity activities, desired outcomes and applicable references that are common across critical infrastructure sectors. The core activities are: Identify, protect, detect, respond and recover.
How to Build an Effective Security Architecture?
It’s important to understand the role that security architecture plays in your organization’s overall business strategy. A robust security architecture reduces cyber risk while also functioning as a business enabler.
The NIST Framework is a useful tool to get started. The first three steps are critical: Map out your existing state, describe your target state (and align it with the organization’s risk profile) and prioritize opportunities for improvement.
As noted, cybersecurity architecture entails the strategic design of systems, policies and technologies. The design model should enable orchestration, visibility, cybersecurity consolidation, policy enforcement, automation and compliance management across the cyber ecosystem.
Zero Trust is another “must-have” in a world of hybrid work and digital transformation. You also want a unified console that integrates management and orchestration across all of the key components of a cybersecurity architecture, including:
- Network Security
- Cloud Security (on-premises, at edge locations and across multiple public clouds).
- Endpoint Security (including IoT)
- Identity and Access Management (IAM)
- Data Protection
- Security Monitoring and Incident Response
- Security Governance, Compliance and Risk Management
Best Practices for Security Architecture
1. Develop a Strategy
Map the current environment, establish objectives, determine the approach and develop the framework. Solicit input from key stakeholders, including the executive suite, lines of business, DevOps, IT and more. Have the CISO and cyber team spearhead the effort.
2. Establish Key Objectives and Milestones
Assess the plan for meeting key objectives. This may include cybersecurity consolidation; increased use of automation, AI and machine learning; Zero Trust; compliance; endpoint protection; and preventing known and unknown zero-day threats in real time.
3. Train the Organization
Communicate the plan across the organization, establish education and training programs and use the architecture as a tool for building a cybersecurity culture within the enterprise. Continue collaboration and information sharing on an ongoing basis.
4. Run Tests and Audits
Conduct regular security assessments and audits and combine them with regular incident response planning and testing,
5. Stay on Top of the Latest Threats
Keep up with evolving cyberthreats and technologies and be particularly reactive to new types of threats in real time as your threat intelligence platform detects them.