Security / April 24, 2020

One Trait National Sporting Leagues Share with Security and IT Teams: Resiliency

This was originally posted on Dark Reading.

Updated October 28, 2021.

The implications of COVID-19 go well beyond the issue of securing the now-majority of remote workers across the world. At the beginning of the month, 75 percent of Americans were under strict stay-at-home orders, requiring an urgent shift from the workplace to home. In some cases, this took place overnight. At the same time, McKinsey & Company estimates that up to 54 million net jobs are vulnerable to reductions in hours or pay, temporary furloughs or permanent layoffs, reinforcing the inability to go back to work anytime soon. With this sobering reality comes an urgent shift in business and security strategy for all industries, and the realization that we need to be able to do more, with less. Less budget, less resources and less in-person interaction and collaboration.

No industry is immune to this need to move virtual, from people working in healthcare to entertainment and education. This brings me to the latest announcement in the ever-surprising reality of virtual events: The much-anticipated NFL draft that went virtual for the first time, this week.

In both the worlds of business and professional sports, resiliency is the key to adapting to challenging and trying times. We need to be able to adjust, adapt, stay secure and get the most out of the situation with the tools ー or players ー at hand. The need for resiliency is one thing we can all agree on as we search for a path to normalcy.

Get Ready for the Unexpected, Virtually

IT and security professionals, along with the rest of us, have suddenly been thrust into a virtual economy where the demands on digital infrastructure ー and securing that infrastructure ー have changed instantly. Before the pandemic, we would have never imagined a time where teachers finished the spring semester via Zoom, the Major League Baseball’s Spring Training was cut short, Opening Day delayed, and stock market projections would be worse than that of the 2008 financial crisis.

In light of this new world we are living in, the NFL season is facing its first virtual move amid the pandemic in order to keep fans engaged, allow dreams to come true for college stars who have dedicated their lives to the sport and hopefully provide sports fans around the country with a light at the end of the tunnel for the fall kickoff.

Nearly every person tuning in for the virtual draft was remote since the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, broadcasts it from his home basement. With this virtual move, comes its own set of security risks and demands on IT infrastructure, as threat actors look to take advantage of online activity. The thought of an opposing team having access to sensitive information, such as a team’s playbook or draft strategy, could be the end to the team’s season before it even starts.

We’re All Transforming, Overnight

While some may think the virtual draft will negatively impact scouts and teams, others disagree. If the NFL wants to have a season and fans that will tune into it, it has to create the excitement early with something as monumental as the draft. The same can be said for security leaders during this time who had to adjust quickly, get their teams on board and instill trust with their customer base. Of course, it’s expected that there will be some levels of discomfort among these rapid changes but adapting and remaining resilient is key.

Security should always be at the forefront of business strategy and planning, but especially now amid the remote workforce and subsequent growing attack surface that requires a secure and borderless network. It’s important that IT and security teams can protect the remote workforce from opportunistic hackers looking to take advantage of virtual events like Draft Day or other online activities. It’s critical for networks to be secure, maintain their performance and keep up the good user experience amid these changes. These requirements are part of maintaining business continuity, which is also incredibly important during this time.

Let’s Learn and Adapt to the New World, Together

During unprecedented times like this, businesses and professional sports alike are forced to go back to the basics. We don’t have the benefit of in-person interaction, advice and consultation like we once did. Security teams are forced to do more with less — from a resource, team and budget perspective — as are NFL coaches during a virtual draft.

The solution lies in having the right kind of data to help you understand performance. Again, a parallel between network performance and the draft. Coaches will have to lean on previously stored data and statistics, rather than speaking directly to a scout, player or analyst in the moment. Some say it’s like the draft is going back in time to that of the ‘70s, but I like to think we’re adapting and learning new ways of working, and living.

For the security and InfoSec pros tasked with complex infrastructure development, implementation, maintenance and security, they need a clear view into what’s happening within the network, and they need it quickly. While our current situation will be fluid for some time, what is here to stay is the need for performance and security in a rapidly shifting network, and optimization of costs with an uncertain budget. Being resilient during these times is key, and we’ll need to remember how we got through these times, even as we get back to “normal.” Personally, I’m looking forward to tuning into the NFL season this fall, and continuing to cheer on my team, even if it’s from home.

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