The security service edge (SSE) is a new cloud-native architecture that delivers integrated security services to distributed enterprise networks. SSE platforms integrate multiple network security functions like secure web gateways (SWG), cloud access security brokers (CASB), firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS), and zero trust network access (ZTNA) to secure access to applications and resources.
What is Security Service Edge (SSE)?
Security service edge is a new category in cybersecurity that emerged in response to enterprises increasingly adopting cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. As enterprise networks expand beyond the data center perimeter to include branch offices, remote and mobile users, public cloud platforms, and SaaS apps, traditional network security approaches like on-premise firewalls and VPNs are no longer sufficient.
SSE platforms aim to secure this new distributed network environment with a cloud-delivered service model. Key capabilities and benefits of SSE include:
- Consolidated security services – SSE consolidates multiple point security products like SWG, CASB, ZTNA, and FWaaS into a single cloud platform. This reduces complexity and cost.
- Unified policy engine – SSE offers a centralized policy framework and administration console to define and manage consistent security policies across the entire distributed network environment.
- Cloud-scale performance – Running on cloud infrastructure, SSE can scale elastically to meet the performance and availability demands of modern enterprise networks and applications.
- Secure access everywhere – SSE secures access to resources whether they are hosted in enterprise data centers, private/public IaaS clouds, or SaaS applications. Policies and security controls follow users no matter where they connect from.
- Context-aware security – SSE ingests rich data like user identity, device posture, location, IP threats, and application risk to inform dynamic and adaptive access policies and security inspection.
Why Is SSE Important?
There are several key reasons why SSE has emerged as an important security framework:
Digital transformation has led to enterprise networks becoming more distributed, with users, devices, and workloads spread across multiple environments. This distribution creates security gaps that SSE is designed to close.
As organizations continue adopting SaaS applications and public cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, their security perimeters have extended beyond the traditional data center. SSE provides unified protection across cloud and on-premises environments.
The shift towards remote and hybrid work models means more employees are working from home or other off-site locations. SSE secures access and connectivity for distributed users and branch offices.
Traditional security focused on hard network perimeters like firewalls. But modern networks are perimeterless, with users and workloads distributed across edges. SSE uses identity and context to secure elastic edges.
Complex Threat Landscape
With the expansion of attack surfaces due to cloud, mobile, and distributed infrastructure, organizations face an increasingly complex threat landscape. SSE consolidates multiple security services to protect against modern threats.
What are the benefits of SSE?
Adopting an SSE platform provides organizations several advantages over traditional security approaches:
Consolidated Security Stack
Instead of managing multiple point security products like SWGs, CASBs, ZTNA, firewalls, and more, SSE consolidates these into a unified platform delivered from the cloud. This reduces costs, overhead, and complexity.
Consistent Security Controls
SSE enables consistent identity, data, and threat protection across all edges of the network including public clouds, private data centers, branch locations, and user endpoints. Policies can be centrally managed.
Improved User Experience
By securing based on identity rather than network location, SSE provides easy, seamless and secure access for users across devices and environments. Access happens in the background versus VPN tunnels.
Scalability and Agility
Adding new users, applications, data or expanding to cloud environments is easy with cloud-delivered security. SSE platforms scale elastically, and changes can deploy in minutes versus months.
Reduced Risk Surface
Consolidating security services into a unified SSE platform reduces potential gaps and risks by eliminating visibility blindspots across cloud, data center and user edges.
What is the Difference between SASE and SSE?
SSE and SASE are closely related strategic security frameworks with a fair amount of overlap. However, there are some key differences:
The main difference lies in the scope of the solutions. SASE takes a superset approach that includes networking and connectivity capabilities in addition to security. SSE focuses exclusively on security services.
SASE architectures mandate that all services be delivered from the cloud. SSE leaves room for some on-premises and hybrid deployments.
SASE consolidates networking, SD-WAN functionality and security into a cloud-native platform. SSE brings together cloud security capabilities into a single pane of glass.
SASE is a newer framework announced in 2019 that will take time to mature. SSE leverages more established cloud security services that organizations can benefit from today while SASE products evolve.
In summary, SASE takes a broader approach to secure networking and access. SSE provides a fast path to consolidated cloud security.
Key Capabilities of a Security Service Edge Platform
A fully-functional SSE platform includes a comprehensive set of integrated cloud security capabilities:
SWG and CASB
Secure web gateway functionality provides inline inspection of web traffic. CASB protects cloud apps and data. SSE platforms unite SWGs and CASBs into one offering.
Zero Trust Network Access
ZTNA replaces VPNs with identity-based access control. This enables secure remote access without network extensions that increase attack surfaces.
Firewall as a Service
Cloud-delivered network firewalls that can be dynamically scaled to protect cloud environments, hybrid infrastructure, branch locations and mobile users.
This technology executes web code in isolated containers separate from endpoint browsers and devices to protect from malware, phishing attacks and data exfiltration.
Cloud WAN and SD-WAN
Some SSE vendors incorporate wide area networking and SD-WAN functionality to provide an integrated networking and security offering.
Unified Policy Engine
Consolidating security services removes the need to manage policies across disconnected tools. SSE centralizes policy administration, compliance and reporting.
The Future of SSE
SSE is still an emerging technology, but given the clear direction of enterprise networks becoming more distributed, adoption of cloud platforms accelerating, and shifts to permanent remote/hybrid work, SSE addresses clear security demands for the future.
As more organizations recognize that enterprise security can no longer focus solely on the data center but must protect identities and data across clouds, edge networks and user endpoints, SSE will become the de facto security model.
Leading analyst firms predict rapid growth for the SSE market with Gartner forecasting that by 2025, 50% of new secure web gateway purchases will be part of an SSE platform. SSE may ultimately subsume other cloud security frameworks like CASB and ZTNA.
Over time, all security is likely to be delivered through cloud-native services like those encompassed by SSE architectures. So SSE adoption positions organizations to embrace the cloud-first security future.
Top SSE Use Cases
There are many scenarios where adopting an SSE platform makes sense for modern enterprises:
Cloud Security Consolidation
Migrating security services like SWG, CASB, network firewalls and remote access to the cloud and managed through a unified SSE platform simplifies cloud security.
Work from Anywhere
Enabling secure remote work at scale is easy with SSE allowing any user, any device to connect from any location without VPNs using Zero Trust Network Access.
Mergers and Acquisitions
As companies grow via mergers and acquire new subsidiaries, connecting and securing distributed users and networks is simplified using cloud-delivered SSE vs. legacy network security approaches.
Centralized policy control along with unified visibility and reporting across cloud and network environments allow organizations to more easily meet compliance mandates around data privacy, financial services regulations and more.
Third-party Risk Mitigation
Extending consistent access controls based on user and device identity across third parties like contractors, partners and supply chain vendors reduces third-party breaches.
Leading Vendors in the SSE Market
The Security Service Edge marketplace is maturing quickly. Leading technology vendors offering robust SSE platforms include:
A pure-play cloud security provider and SSE pioneer, Zscaler launched the first inline CASB and shifts all security to the cloud.
Networking giant Cisco has cloud-hosted security services and SASE offerings, which overlap with SSE use cases. Their security portfolio is one of the industry’s broadest.
Palo Alto Networks
Palo Alto Networks, the leader in next-generation firewalls, offers SSE through its Prisma cloud security products and recent acquisitions like CloudGenix and Bridgecrew.
Symantec Web Security Service
Broadcom’s Symantec security division provides one of the most widely-used secure web gateways delivered from the cloud.
Forcepoint has delivered cloud-based web and data security for years along with Zero Trust endpoint protection, which they now position as an SSE platform.
Netskope offers SASE architecture and one of the longest-standing CASB platforms that has expanded into wider SSE capabilities over time.
Key Considerations for SSE adoption
Organizations exploring the Security Service Edge model should consider several factors:
Existing Security Investment Optimization
Transitioning to SSE may require letting some on-premises tool investments reach end-of-life. Plan a phased, step-wise migration from legacy to cloud-native security.
Network and Management Overhead Reduction
Look for opportunities to embrace SSE consolidation to eliminate complexities and reduce overhead of managing security in distributed environments.
Training and Cross-team Collaboration
As existing security and infrastructure teams may feel threatened by cloud-delivered consolidation, provide training and highlight expanded roles. DevOps integration and collaboration will grow in importance.
User Experience Measurement
Post-implementation, closely measure end user experience and satisfaction related to application access, connectivity and productivity to benchmark SSE impact.
Ongoing Tuning and Expansion
Continually tune policies and access configurations. Look to expand SSE implementation over time as more applications and infrastructure get migrated to public cloud platforms.
The expansion of enterprise networks across cloud and edge environments is driving the need for Security Service Edge to consolidate security into unified, cloud-native platforms. SSE represents the inevitable future of security architectures in a perimeterless world. By adopting SSE, progressive organizations can gain significant security and operational advantages today while aligning their security postures for the future.