Strengthening Your Cybersecurity with Palo Alto’s Rick Congdon

On this episode of Good Morning Work From Home, Mike sits down with Rick Congdon, President of the Americas for Palo Alto Networks to discuss the evolving world of online security, strengthening your cybersecurity and why building strong partnerships is crucial to delivering top-level service to their customer base.

Most people are familiar with Palo Alto Networks as being the world leader in cybersecurity. How would you define the strategy to maintain that status moving forward, and has that altered at all with the overnight change due to COVID-19?

These are certainly unprecedented times that we’ve found ourselves in. I’m in front of all kinds of different customers, from banking to retail. When we’re in conversations with customers, we have to ensure that we’re being creative as it relates to people, products and technology. That we bring capabilities that are unique and that the customers are trying to leverage to solve their problems. The big focus for me, as I’ve talked to customers, is how do they maintain that courage to ensure cybersecurity is top of mind for them as they now begin to rework their budgets?

These are some of the recent conversations I’ve had, because that line has moved up. If I’m CIO, or a CSO, and I have a budget, that line’s now moved up, and I need to have the courage to make sure cybersecurity stays above that line. In our jobs as trusted advisors with our customers, it’s very, very important that we are well educated and also empathetic to what their challenges are, but we do need to have a strong opinion around how they maintain cybersecurity.

When it comes to what Palo Alto is doing as a company from a strategic perspective, we have to stay close to the trends. The cyber crime values that I’ve been reading about and researching are over six trillion by 2021. So, how does our strategy tie to that? How do we give a trillion dollars back to the global economy if we can effectively protect our customers, protect their data, protect their customer’s data and their employee’s data? As we look at some of these trends, obviously the movement to the Cloud is accelerating, especially now that we’re in this COVID crisis. With 350 billion dollar business in Cloud, how are you going to secure all those workloads? Again, key trends are what we’re addressing as a company. Internet of Things (IoT) is absolutely on the rise, and it increases the attack surface, not decreases it. That means companies are more susceptible to getting hacked or breached inside from a cybercrime perspective.

When you think of these trends around security breaches, you think about IoT, shift of Cloud, data now is everywhere, users are everywhere, network transformation projects are happening everywhere. When you combine all of this, what are we doing as a company? First, we must secure the enterprise, secure the data center, secure the networks, and secure the perimeter. From there we can think about Cloud –– we have to secure the Cloud. If we can get those workloads secured, we could integrate with what we’re doing in the data centers, so we have this connection now between private Cloud, public Cloud, and hybrid Cloud. Now we are securing the Cloud, and then we’re going to secure the future.

Once you deploy these security applications, you’re now integrating everything. You can separate those applications from a delivery perspective. This means you might run a physical firewall, you might run a virtual firewall, you might run a Cloud-delivered firewall and those applications reside on top of that firewall infrastructure. Now, you have to ensure that infrastructure is connected to what you’re trying to do from the Cloud perspective, and then you have to operate and automate it. So, Palo Alto has a ton of technologies that sit within all of these areas.

When I think about COVID-19, it really changed the dynamics of where everybody was. Whether it was students or workers, you now have this remote work dynamic, and you have companies that went from building a capability of roughly 5,000 people working from home to all of a sudden they had 200,000 people working from home. Palo Alto has very specific secure access technologies, like Prisma Access, which is a technology delivering secure access to remote workers, to remote students, and then that ties into this network transformation happening from this shift of adding additional capacity and capabilities of SD-WAN to MPLS networks.

We were already looking at the trends that were happening, and when COVID hit, a lot of those trends were tied to network transformation, so we were rapidly deploying our technology across the commercial segment as well as the public sector segment. Universities, obviously, were under tremendous pressure to continue the educational experience for students. We’re very well positioned to help our partners and customers through what’s been taking place here with COVID-19.

With this new shift of people at home, since your company is so security-focused, where have you seen the “bad actors” trying to take advantage of this from a work from home perspective? What advice do you have for businesses on where to focus their efforts? 

The bad actors are tracking human behavior, and they’re looking at how, now that we’re all working from home, we’re probably more susceptible to breaches and attacks. Certainly now with COVID-19, you have COVID-19-related domain names that are just advanced phishing. If you think about it from that perspective, they’re building malware now that maybe wasn’t something that was going to penetrate a data center, but somebody that’s working from their basement is much more susceptible to that type of attack.

We’re fortunate that we have this set up with security applications that now can be delivered via the Cloud that gives us the ability to rapidly deploy to 100,000 workers from home, versus what was originally designed as 5,000. It comes back to the education and awareness of the workforce. It’s the development of tried and true testing of your infrastructure and the extension of your capabilities to those remote users, and then leveraging the technology around them. Prisma Access happened to be a technology that we were delivering that really is our firewall operating system that we built 15 years ago, running on a physical device. It’s not that same architecture, but now it’s the same capabilities that can be delivered via that Cloud. Thus, you have all of the security capabilities now available to be delivered via the Cloud to those remote users.

As I think about our relationships, it’s how do you operationalize this and how do you potentially provide service? Because these times are going to be very dynamic, how does consumption take place? I don’t think customers are going to go out and give us three years up front for secured access for 100,000 workers. They’re going to want to pay that monthly.

That’s the value of our partnership. As I think about what we’re trying to do around this managed service, MSSP-type offering is, let’s take technology, let’s wrap around a bunch of capabilities, and let’s disconnect that from how people actually will buy so they can truly take advantage of these capabilities for the remote workforce. Those are really important elements as I think about how we collectively go together to market.

Palo Alto completed the acquisition of CloudGenix back in April. Why CloudGenix? What was so appealing to you guys about their technologies and platforms that made them the right target versus somebody else that’s in that space?

The fact that first of all, they’re a Cloud delivery type of security and access capability, that fits into the objectives of staying in adjacent markets that might not require significant integration. Many of our applications that we run on top of our firewall, whether again physical or virtual, are actually Cloud-delivered. So, CloudGenix is delivering a SD- WAN solution from a Cloud delivery perspective and it’s very application-centric.

The fit was really nice with what we have been going to market with for now 15 years, and the SD-WAN market’s extremely hot. Why is it hot? I’ve been using the analogy that SD-WAN in 2019 is going to be similar to VMWARE and virtualization 15 years ago. There was not a massive movement for people to virtualize their data center infrastructure until we had the ’01, ’02, ’03 crisis. We then followed that up with the 2008 crisis, and all of a sudden, people began saying they needed to virtualize, and they had to virtualize because they had to drive costs out of the equation.

I think that’s what SD-WAN’s going to do. When you have traditional MPLS networks and you have 100% of your network capacity is MPLS networks, you’re going to have to sort through how you displace costs in that model, and that’s really what SD-WAN enables you to do. You think about the big verticals that SD-WAN is applicable to — healthcare is going to be key to this, retail, finance, and even education as remote campuses begin to spring up, especially in the public university system.

The market is going to be massive. There are going to be multiple ways to solve it. We have really two ways. You can deploy a physical or virtual firewall with

SD-WAN application capabilities on our firewalls, or you can choose to deploy CloudGenix which is much more of a Cloud-delivered, purpose-built solution for those remote and branch offices.

The fit with the company, the leadership of CloudGenix, the culture around collaboration, high energy, high work ethic, incredible team looking to always solve customer challenges are all a great match for us. I’m very excited to have that company and all of its workers part of the Palo Alto Network family.

Palo Alto has broad partnerships with lots of different ways to market. AT&T is one of your service provider partners that brings Palo Alto technology to the marketplace. How do you see the value of the service providers as a route to market where customers are leveraging them to bring Palo Alto Networks architectures to the table versus maybe other ways they may have done it in the past?

I do believe SD-WAN is an enablement technology that’s going to allow some of our customers to transform the way that they do business. Think about it with retailers — we will likely see things like more supermarkets without cashiers, or banks without tellers. The only way you’re going to do that is massive network transformation, a massive increase of capacity of your network capability, to deliver the type of video services as well as checkout services to those types of offerings.

Certainly, we have a traditional partner strategy, no question about that, with national partners and regional partners driving traditional network and security technologies. But I think the opportunity as we accelerate with AT&T and other service providers, and the relationship, is that customers are not going to want to pay up front for the type of network security services they’re going to need to deploy to address the changing business climate for themselves.

Typically, in the case of AT&T, they’ll talk about how 90 of the top 100 retailers run on AT&T’s network. It’s very important that from a people perspective we bring the teams together because together I believe we’re going to be able to solve the challenges these customers are facing. AT&T already owns the network, so now it’s about how we work collectively together to create, focusing on capabilities, having the courage to execute, and then having that history and trust together to actually make sure that the technology that we’re bringing to the end user customer is actually operationalized to the highest level of transformation possible.

I believe that AT&T is in a position to execute before anybody else can execute what our customers are asking for. It starts with the architectural work, along with the vision, and then it moves quickly to execution and deployment. But don’t forget about the consumption part. How could we work together around the billing, and provide services even around that billing?

 If I think about a holistic partner and really helping our customers solve the problems that they’re faced with, AT&T is that partner.

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