Welcome to the Sentinel Blog!
We are proud to feature a carefully curated collection of articles and other content related to the most important technology topics of today and beyond. Our posts are composed and edited by Sentinel’s ALWAYS ENGAGED team of solutions architects, engineers, project managers and other subject matter experts.
Sentinel Migrates a Community Bank to Unified Communications and Omnichannel Contact Center
A medium-sized suburban community bank was evolving its digital bank presence to maintain parity with the large commercial banks. It is essential that community banks evolve to meet customer needs by providing resources such as online banking, mobile applications, and digital customer service while continuing to deliver personalized services the customer expects from its community bank. They were experiencing growth due to customer dissatisfaction with the impersonal service offered by the large commercial banks in the area.
Sometimes the use of technology depersonalizes the customer experience. However, today’s tech-savvy customers want to choose the time and medium to collaborate with their banking partner, just as others continue to enjoy old-fashioned human interaction.
Sentinel provided the community bank with transformational services and a Cisco-powered collaboration solution that met the business goals of embracing modern tools that enhanced the bank’s personalized service. This enabled them to maintain customer interactions with the bank through good old human conversation, while also delivering digital customer services the tech-savvy customer demands. The solution included the use of the Cisco Unified Communication Platform, Omnichannel Contact Center through Cisco Contact Center Express, and WebEx Cloud Services. The solution enables the community bank to achieve technology parity with the mega banks while providing the personalized customer experience many of their account holders demand.
The bank was trying to enhance the customer service experience for its account holders by adding digital media channels to their customer services organization. They started by accepting emails to customer service agents, who were also handling inbound voice calls. Their unified communications platform was unable to handle omnichannel interactions, so emails would often go unanswered or receive a slow response. There was no accountability and insights into measurable performance indicators. Customer interactions (voice & email) were not evenly distributed across available agents, nor were their performances held accountable, rewarded, or coached up. Furthermore, it was nearly impossible to escalate situations to appropriate subject matter experts as the agents were unsure of the status and availability of those experts.
The decision to introduce web chat to their online banking portfolio forced customer service agents to juggle three completely separate communication channels at once. The bank also had no way to measure the overall performance of the customer service center, so they were unaware of how the customer experience improved or declined with the addition of these new features. Their unified communications platform was more than eight years old and would require expensive upgrades and enhancements to properly deliver a modern customer experience with collaboration tools.
The bank decided it was time to pursue an omnichannel customer service solution that would provide support to its agents and supervisors for voice, email, and web chat. The solution needed to manage the distribution of media channels to the best available agent. The solution also need to provide traceability, accountability, and performance management. Most importantly, the solution needed to provide the tools to evaluate and coach their agents so they can maintain and enhance the personalized service that community banks use to attract customers.
Improving collaboration with the bank and its customers was also a major goal. Part of that involved enhancing the ability of agents to escalate a case to a subject matter expert (SME). The bank was not using a unified communications platform that could provide presence, instant messaging, collaboration workspaces, and screen sharing. While video collaboration was not an immediate need, the bank still planned to deploy video teller machines to enhance its service reach and hours. All these solutions needed to be integrated into the customer support center.
The bank operated approximately 40 branches, mostly in a suburban environment where its customers and employees were based. Their old system supported these locations by providing VoIP services and phones. As the workforce became increasingly mobile, the solution needed to accommodate work from home employees and agents, transient workers, and disaster recovery options. The older system could not meet those needs.
The bank released an RFP soliciting proposals from on premise and cloud providers for an omnichannel customer support solution that included the following key features:
Cisco engaged Sentinel Technologies to respond to the bank’s RFP because of its extensive expertise in Unified Collaboration and Customer Service Centers. The Sentinel team collaborated with the bank on its requirements and outlined possible solutions. Sentinel quickly determined that replacing the “contact center only” solution was problematic due to the following issues:
+It created solution islands. The goal of collaboration between the contact center, SME, and customer would be compromised due to the integration issues between legacy equipment and the new solution.
+Implementation of the base unified communication platform features along with the customer contact center solution drove the price per unit too high. The solution had a high per-agent cost, which was not competitive with cloud solutions.
+The customer was not fully sold on pure cloud services for its banking operations.
+There were feature discrepancies between cloud and on premise solutions.
Sentinel provided the bank with an alternative proposal for the total replacement of their legacy unified communications system with Cisco Unified Communication Platform, Cisco Contact Center Express, Calabrio ONE, and WebEx Cloud Services. The proposed solution, when incorporating the customer service center and corporate users at over 40 branches, exceeded their initial requirements with a price per a unit lower than the cloud providers over a five year total cost of ownership. The solution consisted of the following elements:
+Cisco Collaboration Flex Plan – The solution included a five year enterprise agreement for on premises calling and Cisco Contact Center Premium Agents.
+Cisco Business Edition 6000 High and Medium Density Servers – VMware hosts for supporting all the unified communication and contact center virtual machines
+Cisco Unified Communication Applications
+Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CallManager) – Call Control, Registration and Management (Voice and Video)
+Unity Connection – Voicemail (Voice and Video)
+Instant Messaging and Presence
+Cisco Emergency Responder
+Virtual Cisco Unified Border Element – SIP Carrier Services
+Cisco Expressway – Mobile Remote Access, B2B Video, IM Federation
+Cisco Jabber – Desktop and Mobile App
+Cisco Contact Center Express – Inbound, Outbound, Email and Web Chat Channels
+Cisco IP Phones
+WebEx Cloud Services
+Hybrid Services with on premise solution
Sentinel provided professional services for the conversion and transformation of the bank to a modern collaboration platform. These services included the following:
+Program Management – Sentinel professional project managers helped the organization to manage various aspects of the project including delivery of product, carrier management, coordination of resources for the customer, Sentinel, and vendor, as well as project tracking.
+Design Services – Sentinel architects and engineers designed the base infrastructure and call flows for each location to migrate to the new platform while providing interoperability and dial plan consistency with the legacy system. This service was a collaboration with the bank.
+Implementation Service – Sentinel provided engineers and analysts to build the solution and migrate from the legacy system to the new platform. This included the integration with Webex cloud services. Our analysts worked with the individual and/or department stakeholders to develop call flows, phone cut sheets, and personalized settings.
+Training – Sentinel used its professional trainers (not engineers) to educate and increase the productivity of end users. We offered training for all the features of the solution to support basic users, agents, and supervisors.
+Developers – Sentinel utilized its professional software developers, who are specialists in UC and the contact center application UCCX, to develop many functionalities such as IVR scripts, Finesse customizations, email integration, web chat, and bots.
The bank was looking to enhance its digital presence and customer experience for its account holders. This objective was to stay current with the latest digital communication features offered by the mega banks while keeping true to their core principals of personalized caring customer service. Sentinel became a true solution provider for the bank by taking the time to understand their core business goals, current problems, and future vision. By listening to the customer and understanding their vision, Sentinel was able to develop a solution that was price conscious, customized to their needs, future-proof, and delivered on time.
Sentinel stands alone in the industry with the years and depth of Cisco collaboration resources available to our customers. Sentinel has been awarded regional and worldwide recognition by Cisco for our excellence and expertise as a vendor and comprehensive services provider. If you are interested in learning more about Unified Communication and Collaboration solutions, please contact us for additional information.
Sentinel Helps A Resort Group Manage Their Costs With Cisco Webex Calling
Sentinel worked with a resort management company to replace their Cisco Unified Management system with a cloud-based platform to improve capabilities and lower costs. The project migrated the phones from a Cisco Unified Communication Manager to Cisco WebEx calling for their employees.
The Cisco on premise system had unreliable PRIs (primary rate interfaces), so those services were moved to WebEx Teams in order to allow the customer to move from PRI to SIP (session initiation protocol) through these services.
The customer had a Cisco on premise system that was unable to provide the flexibility needed to maintain the independence of each resort. The customer also wanted to manage multiple resorts via a single site while maintaining their investment in Cisco phones. Beyond that, the customer desired a single source for troubleshooting each resort location instead of dealing with a separate interface per site. Since the sites are paid for per location, WebEx Calling allowed for a fixed monthly cost without the overhead of upgrading to security and feature additions for on premise environments.
As the company moved forward, they aimed to develop an agile system that supported both their current and future needs, whatever they might be. They were interested in improving the accessibility and management of their current environment while making it easier to add new users to any location from a single interface.
Sentinel’s solution was a full Cisco WebEx Cloud PBX deployment for each location. WebEx calling is a complete enterprise-grade calling and team collaboration solution offered through a flexible subscription model.
+ Investment protection: Almost all companies have invested in some kind of on premise solution, and most are not ready to retire their existing platforms yet. Finding a way to gracefully migrate from the old to the new while maintaining the investment is important to most CIOs.
+ Innovation without chaos: Shifting from an older legacy platform to a new cloud service brings many new capabilities, but can also create a headache for IT management. It is essential to try and keep policies and features consistent between the old and new systems.
+ Workforce disruption: To properly compete in the digital era it is important to transform the way people work. However new tools and capabilities can be disruptive, as users are forced to change the way they work. It’s critical that any tools brought in have a minimal impact on the workforce.
+ Complexity of existing collaboration tools: Most businesses have multiple collaboration tools to provide calling, meetings, video, team messaging and other functions. Trying to tie all of these systems together at a management layer is difficult, if not impossible—particularly if they come from different vendors. Sentinel works with our customers to simplify collaboration and make it easier to manage the tools within their environment.
The Sentinel team deployed the new solution, which enabled the customer to be more agile and support its resorts with the most efficient information. It also resulted in a streamlined support structure for their solutions.
About Sentinel Collaboration
Sentinel’s Collaboration offerings are designed to handle today’s complex business and IT landscape, closely engaging with your organization to develop and implement a comprehensive voice strategy suited to your company’s unique needs. Our collaborations portfolio includes:
+ Unified Communications
+ Unified Contact Center
+ Mobility Solutions
+ Conferencing Solutions
+ Video Collaboration
+ Managed Services 24x7x365 Monitoring
+ Application Security
+ Identity Access & Endpoint Security
+ Network & Perimeter Security
+ Physical Security
If you are interested in learning more about Unified Communication and Collaboration solutions, please contact Sentinel for additional information.
A Casino Wins Big With A Cisco Unified Communications Solution
Sentinel worked with an Indian resort and casino to replace their outdated Mitel phone system. The project migrated the hotel and casino phones from a Mitel infrastructure to a new Cisco Unified Communications platform.
The Mitel system had multiple PRIs (primary rate interfaces) that terminated in the main casino and 1 PRI in the smaller casino. Those existing PRIs were migrated to SIP (session initiation protocol) circuits. The SIP routers were placed in the casinos to provide carrier redundancy.
The customer had an older Mitel phone system with increasing costs for maintenance and support of software and security patches. Some of their older units had also reached end of support. Beyond that, the casino wanted to provide guests with easier access to information on restaurants and travel to increase traffic to those items. The customer wanted easy-to-use software that would enable guest services to update room status, repairs, and customization requests. Lastly, the customer wanted to simplify the ways to contact other employees by adopting a single application that collected all the emails and voice messages sent to an individual rather than continuing to use a complex, multi-channel system.
As the casino entered a new era, they wanted to have an agile system that supported both their current and future needs, whatever they might be. They were interested in improving accessibility and streamlining their workflows through the creation of virtual environments and the use of third party applications. Adapting to today’s increasingly mobile workforce was also a priority. Deploying single number reach was the easiest way to accomplish that objective.
Sentinel’s solution was a full Cisco VoIP deployment using industry standards to include the following Cisco Software Solutions:
+Communication Manager – 1 Publisher, 2 Subscribers.
+Unity Connection – 2 HA Servers.
+IM and Presence – 2 HA Servers.
+Unified Contact Center Express – 2 HA Servers.
+Emergency Responder – 2 HA Servers.
+Nevotek Hospitality Suite (1 Server).
Cisco Unified Communications combines the flexibility and convenience of mobile communications with secure and managed benefits of Cisco IP Communication. The proposed solution included:
+Single number reach gives users the ability to direct incoming calls to ring on multiple devices as well as the Jabber phone or desk phone, thus allowing callers to reach someone easily by dialing one phone number. This extended the call control of Cisco Communications Manager from a mobile worker’s primary workspace phones to any location or device.
+Single Inbox gives users the ability to have a single pane to see all digital communication, including email and voicemail messages. This also enables the mobile workers to check voicemail from a mobile device connected to the corporate network without requiring additional applications on their phone.
+Cisco instant massager and presence (Cisco Jabber) is a desktop, laptop, and cell phone application that transparently integrates a wide variety of communications applications and services, such as voice, instant messaging, voicemail, presence, web conferencing, and video from a single multimedia interface on your device in order to simplify communication and collaboration.
+Dual-Mode phones function as an enterprise IP phone on campus or remote connections through the Cisco Expressway. They typically provide a wide variety of smartphone capabilities, including group calling, call transfer, paging, and other personal digital assistant features.
+Cisco Emergency Responder makes it easier for 911 operators to determine the exact location of a caller during an emergency. This enables first responders to reach victims faster and helps local personnel better delegate responsibility during such events. In addition, it keeps a record of emergency calls and authorized personnel have the ability to add notes for a specific incident as needed (Note, this ability to update records is not a replacement for proper record keeping).
+Cisco Unified Contact Center Express helps businesses and organizations deliver a connected digital experience, enabling contextual, continuous, and capability-rich journeys for customers across channels. This easy to deploy and easy to use solution supports up to 400 agents and is designed for midmarket companies or enterprise branch offices. Secure and highly available, it supports powerful agent-based services and fully integrated self-service applications, including Automatic Call Distributor (ACD), Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Computer Telephony Integration (CTI), and digital channels including email and chat, and customer experience management tools.
+Cisco Finesse Desktop is a next-generation agent and supervisor desktop embedded within Cisco Contact Center Express. Its intuitive, easy to use design helps to improve the performance of customer care representatives, enabling quality customer service.
+Nevotek Hospitality Suite is an add-on to the Cisco Unified Communication solution that provides easy management of room control and housekeeping controls. These services also include easy access to restaurants and travel information at the touch of the screen instead of having to use the internet to look up information.
The Sentinel team implemented the solution, which enabled the casino to be more agile and support guests with the most efficient information at their fingertips. It also allowed casino workers to support one another more efficiently through single number reach as well as provided a streamlined support structure for their solutions.
About Sentinel Collaborations
Sentinel’s Collaboration offerings are designed to handle today’s complex business and IT landscape, closely engaging with your organization to develop and implement a comprehensive voice strategy suited to your company’s unique needs. Our collaborations portfolio includes:
+Unified Contact Center
+Managed Services 24x7x365 Monitoring
+Identity Access & Endpoint Security
+Network & Perimeter Security
If you are interested in learning more about Unified Communication and Collaboration solutions, please contact Sentinel for additional information.
Sentinel's Work From Home Tips
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our lives on a daily basis, it has created new challenges and new realities that have affected the way the world does business. In-person meetings and handshake are temporarily on hold, and there’s a very good chance you haven’t seen a corporate office since sometime in March. While many organizations rushed to provide their employees with the essential equipment and applications needed to work from home, what those things don’t account for is the ability to maintain productivity and focus outside of an office environment.
Whether you have kids running around, share your living space with a partner, or simply get tempted by daytime TV, there are a multitude of distractions at home that can make it difficult to get all of your work done every day. Hopefully by now you’ve found a way to adapt to these new surroundings, but if you’re still struggling to stay on task as dog walkers stroll past the window of your home office, Sentinel wants to help! We asked a few Sentinel employees to share their tips for creating a fulfilling work from home experience, and wanted to share them as a resource in these unorthodox times.
Erin Joseph, Sales Support Coordinator
+ In my opinion, the best thing to stay productive is to have a designated workspace. That way in the morning I feel like I am really “going” to work and can get into the right mindset. The same applies when I finish for the day, as I walk away from my workspace and get back into “mom/family-mode”. It helps me feel like I’m still able to somewhat keep life and work separate.
+ I also try to stick to my typical office hours as much as possible, and step away for a quick lunch break. Since there is no commute I do tend to stay on a bit later in the evening more often, but I feel like that time balances out during the day if my attention is briefly needed elsewhere. It’s all about trying to keep a good work/life balance. Also, there’s no TV in my workspace, though I love to have music playing the background.
+ Planning out the day around conference calls and work-related obligations helps me stay focused too. I also try to give my daughter chores or activities to do during important calls or times that I really need to focus.
+ I do my best to set boundaries with my family and my work space. The kids know that if the office door is closed then there is something important going on and to not disturb me. I can’t say my daughter has never barged in at a bad time, but in this current work climate, almost everyone has their own story to share about kids or pets interrupting something important. More than ever we need to keep a sense of humor about the situation and understand we’re all in the same boat!
Kian Kameli, Client Services Coordinator
+ Take short, frequent breaks. Whenever I find myself needing a little break I will take my dogs on a quick 5-10 minute walk around my building or take 5 minutes to water the plants around my house.
+ Unplug for lunch. On busy days when I could easily work through the lunch hour, I will unplug for 30 minutes and allow myself to either have a relaxing lunch outside or take a quick cycling class on my Peloton. Afterwards, you feel refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of your day.
+ Take your lunch during “off” hours. On busy days when my phone and email is getting constant notifications, I will sometimes work through the typical lunch hour (12-1pm) and take a lunch from 1-2pm. This allows me to be more productive since most people are at lunch during 12-1pm.
+ Have a designated area away from the TV, bed, and other distractions during work hours. Since March, I have had my work station in one designated area that is away from all distractions. This way, I don’t even think about doing something else.
Jori Gates, Sales Executive
+ It’s important to give my day structure; I like to mix in staying active by going on a walk, doing a short yoga video, or sitting outside on my lunch break.
+ Another thing that helps me is opening the windows or allowing natural light to come in, to bring a fresh and alert mindset to my body.
+ I also think it’s important to have your desk face a non-distracting view. I have mine facing a window to look outdoors, but there are only side views of buildings so it is not distracting.
Honestly I don’t have too many distractions (no kids or pets) compared to others, so for me it’s all about self-motivation and the things I listed above to help inspire me and maintain my best self every day.
Diane Jackson, Solutions Architect
+ Inevitably while working from home, trying to accomplish some household tasks will cross your mind at some point. Allow yourself 5-10min breaks to throw in a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher. It gives you a quick mental break while feeling you’ve checked off a to-do list item. Just make sure to keep it restricted to a brief timeframe, otherwise it’ll be tough to return to work and stay focused.
+ Most people say “stick to your set schedule” while working from home. Personally that doesn’t work for me, because there is no set schedule in a household with kids. I embrace the flexibility. I log in and start work earlier than usual so I don’t feel guilty when taking a break to help the kids with breakfast and other things.
If you have any additional work from home tips, please share them with us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
Learn more about Sentinel’s COVID-19 support offerings here, or contact us for more information.
The Insight Podcast, Episode 3: Incident Response
The third episode of The Insight Podcast features a discussion between Sentinel CTO Robert Keblusek and Sentinel Support Services Manager Ted Joffs. Their lively chat focuses on Sentinel’s incident response practice and our unique approach to protecting customers experiencing a cyber attack. Stick around through the entire episode to find out how the current COVID-19 pandemic has changed the approaches and attack vectors of many criminals eager to strike, as many organizations unknowingly compromised their security when making changes to accommodate an expanded remote workforce.
Listen and subscribe to full episodes of The Insight Podcast via your favorite streaming service. New episodes will be posted every two weeks. Watch the full video from Episode 3 on the Sentinel YouTube channel. Here is an excerpt:
How does Sentinel handle incident response?
Sentinel has our SOC offering, and we have a number of different security services that handle detection, response, notification, remediation, and guidance for customers. That includes remediation on managed devices, which is our top growth area. Security is just red hot right now. It’s likely due to so many organizations experiencing cyber attacks this year, but Sentinel has also developed a very strong incident response policy over the last few years. Actually it’s not just a policy, but an actual response team spread out across the country made up of experts that are able to come in, roll up their sleeves, and recover your environment when one of those unfortunate cyber attacks happen to you.
Ted Joffs runs that incident response team. We also have a number of incident response commanders. It’s tied very closely to our SOC service, where we have analysts, detection tools, response tools, and connections with forensics firms and cyber insurers. It’s been a very active group that is growing pretty rapidly. We’re really proud of our capabilities and how many customers we’ve helped to save their businesses and reputations.
Our incident response team is, as Bob mentioned, national. We do have dedicated commanders as well as dedicated responders and then we obviously overlay that with our technical capabilities throughout Sentinel as a whole so we have 200+ additional engineering staff that can be brought in on a moment's notice depending on what the technology needs require for incident response. That tends to set us apart from other incident response companies who are solely dedicated to incident response. They may not have the full technical capabilities that Sentinel brings to bear there.
Our incident response team is, as Bob mentioned, national. We have dedicated commanders and responders, which we then overlay with our technical capabilities throughout Sentinel as a whole. We have 200+ additional engineering staff that can be brought in at a moment’s notice depending on what technology needs are required for a specific incident response. That tends to set Sentinel apart from other incident response companies, which are often solely dedicated to incident response. They may not have the full technical capabilities that Sentinel brings to the table.
How has Sentinel's security team approached the COVID-19 crisis?
If a security incident were to occur, we hope the customer gets in contact with us as quickly as possible. We want to engage with them immediately, because when an incident occurs, the faster we can triage the less impact and financial cost it will have on the customer. So we hope they reach out through their account manager or by calling in to our main phone number in order to get routed straight to the IR team. If they’re already a customer, we pull up their incident response agreement, get them to confirm the details of the engagement, and then our incident commanders step in. We schedule Webex meetings, set up team spaces and groups or whatever might be needed, and then we get our incident response analysts in to start digging. At that point we try to figure out exactly what we’re dealing with, whether it’s a business email compromise, ransomware, phishing attack, or something else. Once we know what it is, we stop the threat and move on to remediation. Our goal is to help our customers not just isolate the event and triage, but also to restore overall service.
Yeah, I’d add too that those are reactionary customers or prospects dealing with an event where we aim to close the window of time bad actors have to monetize the attack, destroy your infrastructure, breach information from your network, or whatever their goal might be. We’re going to stop it and figure out where they came in, how they spread, and what was at risk.
We also have a proactive incident response retainer, which includes tabletop exercises. It helps to practice a response, because you’re prepared and can shrink the response time window. Typically organizations that are doing that have detection with Sentinel as well, so we worked closely with Gartner and their recommendations to customers when it comes to incident response. They advise customers to have somebody on retainer for incident response. Cyber insurers say the same thing. So the ideal scenario is that you engage with us [Sentinel] and set up a prepaid retainer, which gives you benefits including discounted rates and tabletop exercises so we can practice what to do when (not if) a cyber incident happens.
The other thing I’d point out is that we don’t just do it alone. While many incident response situations are handled only with Sentinel, we’ve also partnered with Cisco’s incident response and Cylance for their incident compromise assessments so we have a scale-out team available made up of vendors and industry-leading threat intelligence firms that we can activate as part of our overall program.
If you are interested in learning more about Sentinel’s incident response offerings, please contact us for more information.
The Insight Podcast, Episode 2: Secure Cloud Adoption Strategies
Sentinel is thrilled to share the second episode of The Insight Podcast, featuring a Q&A session with Michael Soule, Sentinel’s National Director of Enterprise Architecture and Innovation. He offers up some guidance for organizations looking to begin or expand their public cloud presence, along with tips on how to keep your cloud secure. It’s a fascinating and highly informative discussion, so we hope you’ll take 11 minutes out of your day to listen to the entire thing!
Listen and subscribe to full episodes of The Insight Podcast via your favorite streaming service. New episodes will be posted every two weeks. Watch the full video from Episode 2 on the Sentinel YouTube channel. Here is an excerpt.
Why is identity such a critical area when it comes to secure cloud adoption?
It’s an interesting topic because it’s such a long-standing issue. Identity has always been a difficult piece of the technology puzzle. Today thanks to business-to-business integrations and integrations with Software as a Service providers such as ServiceNow or Salesforce or Office 365, you need to make sure that your user’s individual credentials make sense and you aren’t making their experience in those applications worse or more complex. Whether it’s Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, or Software as a Service, within the public cloud you have the shared responsibility model, and in all models the identity layer is always the customer’s responsibility. So identity is a critical piece, and it’s pure foundation around how you secure any public cloud applications.
What are some of the critical gaps with securing public cloud infrastructure?
Some of the gaps we see are definitely related to identity. Usually there’s a lot of legacy infrastructure that’s been built upon, whether it’s a human resources information system or integrations into enterprise resource planning systems or customer relationship management systems. A lot of that is predicated on your Active Directory infrastructure. Most organizations have an Active Directory, but to claim that it’s tightly coupled with actual business outcomes sometimes results in a gap. Bringing that into the public cloud just causes more headaches, and one of the critical pieces involves making sure we shore up that identity so users are identified and can actually use those applications properly with the right authorization.
Segmentation and role-based access control also play a part in this, right?
Yeah, and that’s another great area as public cloud technologies give us new segmentation barriers. When we had an entire IT infrastructure on premise, we were somewhat limited. We had maybe network segmentation or, depending on your hardware or software platforms, some sub-segmentation in their coding. But in the public cloud, you can create two AWS accounts side-by-side, or you can have completely independent Azure subscriptions side-by-side, and now you have a clear segmentation barrier that is a definitive blocker for any lateral movement from a security perspective.
So this is used to limit resource actions taken?
Exactly. So by doing that, there’s this implied boundary. We know that if I give developers access to a specific account that’s different from their production account, those developers can’t accidentally take actions or be given authorization to take actions on resources that are production resources unless we explicitly make that correlation. So in terms of security, it goes back to the Zero Trust model, where you don’t trust anyone.
If you are interested in learning more about public cloud adoption and how to keep your cloud users secure, please contact Sentinel for additional information.
The Insight Podcast, Episode 1: Security Trends and Zero Trust
The world of IT is complex, ever-evolving, and often challenging to navigate. Sentinel hopes to provide a little clarity and guidance for your organization's IT journey with The Insight Podcast! Whether you're interested in learning more about some of the latest enterprise technology innovations and trends or are simply seeking advice on the best solutions and services for a specific industry, the experts at Sentinel want to help your business achieve more and remain Always Leading!
The inaugural episode of The Insight Podcast features a conversation between Sentinel’s Chief Technology Officer Robert Keblusek and Sentinel’s National Director of Enterprise Architecture and Innovation Mark Combs. They discuss some of the current security challenges organizations are facing during the current pandemic, as well as outline the importance of Zero Trust.
Listen and subscribe to full episodes of The Insight Podcast via your favorite streaming service. New episodes will be posted every two weeks. Watch the full video from Episode 1 on the Sentinel YouTube channel. Here is an excerpt:
Do you think working from home during this pandemic will change the future outlook for businesses as they eventually return to the office?
Robert Keblusek (RK): I think it will, because what we’re seeing is a lot of our customers, ourselves included, have been surprisingly productive with the mobile workforce. So I do think it’s going to change the way that people think about working from home and productivity, along with how we secure it.
When we look at malware and phishing, just looking at our own reporting on our Umbrella dashboard, we were seeing about a 2x increase in malware and about a 3x increase in phishing. It changes week to week. Mark gets the same reports that I do, and we watch the trends. There’s definitely a change in activity. We saw some increases, especially at the start of this, and also through our incident response team. We had a number of concurrent activities going on and saw increased activity across the board, so our incident response activity was much higher.
I think that with people being mobile, you get off the network. Historically a lot of people have put a lot of technology and controls on the network, but have not paid enough attention to what happens when they’re off the network. How do we secure people when they’re out at Panera Bread? Just working mobile under normal conditions, how do we secure that? How do we enforce policy? How do we do URL filtering? How do we see that reporting? I think that has been under-purchased or under-considered, as well as the standards that go around that. Mark, I know you have been doing a lot of POCs and having a lot of conversations around these technologies.
Mark Combs (MC): In my opinion the risk has always been there, especially during COVID and other things. It’s not that the risk wasn’t there before, I think it’s just been brought to light a little bit. When you went from having 25% of your remote workforce at home to now 100%, I think people are paying a little closer attention to that. So they’re starting to see that uptick in different types of threats, which have always been there. I think that might be the silver lining in all this.
The biggest question I ask when talking to customers about security risks, evaluations, or strategies is, “How are you protecting your users or corporate assets now that they’re remote?” Everybody’s got a next-gen firewall, everybody’s got their on premise security appliances or whatever they’re doing, but the user’s not there anymore – the users are remote. So how are we extending that, whether it’s on cloud, SD access, things like that? It’s extending that coverage to the user base.
Do you see organizations focused more on employee security training?
RK: We are seeing more conversations occurring. I have the luxury of seeing a lot of the orders come through too, and that’s an area that Dr. Mike Strnad and our Advisory team works on pretty closely from the security awareness. We’ve definitely had a lot more conversations around that, and business continuity. I would say that a lot of them are starting right now, following the initial urgency to work from home. At first it was about getting everybody connected.
Now people are circling back and asking how they can tighten things up. They’re realizing that they’re dealing with more attacks, and maybe have a few less protections in place than originally thought. That rush to work from home also increased people’s awareness of the risk. The risk was always there when people were working remote, they’re just not as security aware so their security IQ isn’t as high as it needs to be. It was minimal activity in many cases in the past, but that’s increased dramatically very quickly, and brought the awareness to the surface.
Can you tell us more about Sentinel’s Zero Trust Workshop?
MC: Zero Trust is not a product. It’s a framework. It’s a methodology. I can’t sell you “zero trust” per se. Our workshop has become really hot. On a Zero Trust Workshop, we go in with the mindset that we trust no one. I may like you, but I don’t necessarily trust you. It’s really a comprehensive review of customers’ applications, their networks, and their workforce.
You’ll hear a lot about the three pillars: the workforce, the workload, and the workplace. We’re really focusing on those areas and trying to get an idea of who’s accessing your workloads. Are your workloads in the cloud? Are you working from a hybrid network? Customers have workloads in the cloud, and they extend their VPNs into the cloud. How are the workloads being accessed? Bob mentioned business continuity. How are you backing up those workloads? We have a lot of customers with incident response and ransomware events that spread to their backups. Are your backups air gapped? How are your users accessing your network now that they’re remote? Most customers will tell me they provide access through VPN, which gets us into passwords and authentications and credentials. Do you know who is accessing your network remotely? A lot of times, the answer is no. If I ask nine out of ten customers if they require VPN to access their networks, they’ll tell me yes, but then they can’t tell me who is logged in through VPN at the moment.
Then the final piece is the workplace. Even though much of the workforce is currently remote, they’re still part of the workplace extended over VPN connectivity. What devices are they using to access the network? Are they non-corporate devices? That’s really what the workshop framework is. We dig deep into all areas of Zero Trust methodology and framework to try to poke holes or identify gaps within a customer’s security infrastructure.
RK: We have certainly seen an uptick of people buying licensing for VPNs or standing up VPNs on the fly because they never purchased enough to handle this type of a situation. But I’m finding too that working from home, I only have to access a VPN for a couple of specific applications – mostly legacy stuff. At this point Sentinel is over half SaaS applications. Even though we have CloudSelect, our own hosting centers, and sell AWS and Azure IaaS, it seems to me like less and less people have a need to VPN into the corporate data center in order to access an application because so many things have moved to SaaS. Are you seeing that in the Zero Trust Workshops too, Mark?
MC: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a good point. I was just working with a customer the other day who needed to secure their VPN and add two-factor authentication and all sorts of things, and only a small percentage of their workforce was accessing their environment over VPN. Everybody else used some type of VDI or virtual desktop solution. So I asked them why they needed VPN. If you can get rid of VPN, then you can get rid of insecure access and insecure passwords and maybe move those things to a cloud. When you start to ask those kinds of questions, it raises a lot of eyebrows and customers start to think about if they really need VPN access. So yeah, I am definitely starting to see a shift toward a VPN-less connectivity type of thing.
If you are interested in learning more about Sentinel’s FREE Zero Trust Workshop, please contact us.
Staying Secure at Home
As many organizations and workers continue to adjust the way they conduct business in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, security needs to remain a top priority. While it’s important to ensure everyone at your company has access to the resources required to perform their jobs on a daily basis, more often than not compromises get made in the name of convenience and the need to rapidly expand coverage to the entire workforce. Cyber criminals know this, and are trying harder than ever right now to find the weak spots in your defenses. Once they find a way in, they attack with phishing attempts, malware, ransomware, and other dangerous tools aimed at disrupting your business by stealing, deleting, or encrypting critical data. Breaches can result in a significant loss of time, money, productivity, and business reputation.
Sentinel’s Advisory Services team wants to offer a brief reminder of a couple ways you can engage with us to help ensure your employees and organization remain safe and secure while working remotely during this unprecedented time. These solutions can be deployed quickly and in a remote capacity, so you can harden your security posture while staying home and maintaining social distancing requirements.
Remote Worker Penetration Testing
Sentinel’s Remote Access PEN Test challenges an organization’s security posture from a remote worker perspective. Our expert penetration testers take on the role of one of your remote workers in order to uncover your areas of risk and help with hardening your systems as quickly as possible. We approach your systems from the standpoint of a compromised endpoint with access to your VPN, and will identify and exploit any visible holes within your security infrastructure. This will test your protection, detection, and response to a cyber threat entering your enterprise from a home worker and moving laterally to monetize the attack or steal your data. This is done without disruption and in parallel to your workers’ continued productivity.
Sentinel experts, armed with first-hand experience in your network, will provide immediate recommendations for preventing an attack. These recommendations include practical actions to swiftly secure your mobile workforce, often leveraging currently available no cost protection and detection technologies. The results will help your organization establish a preventative security approach and continued work from home productivity with a much lower risk of data exfiltration, destruction, and/or successful ransomware attack.
Sentinel’s Compromise Assessment evaluates an organization’s security posture to determine if a breach has occurred or is actively occurring. Sentinel can determine when, where, and how a compromise occurred, and provide tactical recommendations for preventing another attack. By integrating artificial intelligence into tools and processes, Sentinel experts secure environments while swiftly identifying a compromise, resulting in a preventative security approach.
A Sentinel Compromise Assessment utilizes a methodology for identifying environmental risks, security incidents, and ongoing threat actor activity in a network environment.
The assessment identifies ongoing compromises and uncovers the malicious access and usage of the environment. The goal is to detect and stop any active security incidents quickly and quietly. The assessment is composed of three phases — with each phase more targeted — and addresses core problems such as:
+Network host and application configuration
+User account activity
+Malware and persistence mechanisms
+Command and control activity
+Data exfiltration and sabotage
Beyond these two solutions, Sentinel can also perform security assessments, vulnerability assessments, and IT security governance alignments. Additional security solutions including two-factor authentication, email security, VPN security, endpoint security, Security Operations Center (SOC) monitoring, plus managed detection and response are available and can be quickly deployed as needed. Please contact us for more information. Our COVID-19 Support Offerings page includes information on other non-security solutions that may be useful during this time, including remote connectivity, collaboration, and compute tools.
Sentinel Responds to COVID-19 Technology Challenges
As the world faces an unprecedented crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic, Sentinel wants to help ensure our customers are equipped with the proper tools to manage the many challenges associated with maintaining strong employee communication and productivity in any scenario. Today’s technology enables organizations of all types to stay connected, collaborative, and secure across platforms and locations, so you can continue to conduct business with minimal or no disruption. While many companies already have things like remote and mobile work capabilities deployed within their environments, not all systems are designed to scale out rapidly in an emergency or can handle the demands of an entire mobile workforce. If you’re at all concerned about your organization’s ability to properly function from an operational standpoint during a pandemic or other major crisis situation, or are simply interested in enhancing the work from home experience for your employees, please contact Sentinel for more information on solutions or upgrades for your business.
Here are some of Sentinel’s offerings that may help during these difficult times:
Pandemic Continuity of Operations Plan
Continuity plans serve as guides for maintaining essential business functions and services during a viral outbreak or pandemic. This plan neither replaces nor supersedes any currently approved continuity plan, but can function as a supplement to any existing continuity plan. It supplements the traditional, all-hazards continuity planning by addressing additional considerations, challenges, and elements specific to the dynamic nature of a pandemic.
Based on our tailored engagements, Sentinel offers a Pandemic Continuity of Operations Plan to help our customers quickly initiate and develop a comprehensive recovery strategy. Sentinel can also provide the guidance around IT systems readiness, collaboration tools, cloud services, and other critical IT services in support of your organization’s plan.
Remote Productivity Express Plan
Most organizations have a mobile working strategy in place, but few have the tools and capacity to handle extreme mobility demands. If the number of employees working remote instantly jumps to 100%, new challenges may emerge. Your plan (if one exists) might not execute properly, the technology required might not be available, or your system might not be able to handle all the remote workers. Security is also a major concern, as organizations often lower defenses for expediency. This may be normal and expected, but bad actors will take advantage of any opportunity to compromise your environment.
Sentinel’s productivity express services can help deliver agility for your organization and its employees. Our rapid mobility workshop features a gap analysis to determine your immediate needs, identify ideal solutions, and map to vendor promotions so you can get productive quickly.
High Capacity and Specialized Collaboration
Collaboration among branches, partners, and remote co-workers is nothing new. Solutions range from simple voice or chat to fully immersive video rooms that make people worlds apart feel like they're two feet away. However when your all your employees are trying to collaborate from home at the same time, you quickly discover the limitations of your existing capabilities. Sentinel can help with agile cloud-based offerings that can be deployed quickly for real-time communications, advanced content collaboration, and video capabilities for individuals/groups.
Sentinel offers innovative collaboration solutions for organizations of all sizes. We work with our partners to provide advanced collaboration capabilities through pay-as-you-go or extended trials of solutions from industry leaders such as Amazon Chime, Cisco WebEx, and Microsoft Teams. Sentinel's digitization experts will help align your needs with the right solution for your team. Our aim is to keep your business productive, communicating within and between organizations, and collaborating with everyone, from anywhere.
Some industries face unique collaboration challenges. Along with person-to-person and business-to-business voice, video, IM, and other collaboration essentials, additional tools are required for events, distance learning, and even telemedicine. Some solutions such as telemedicine at healthcare facilities and eLearning in K-12 schools have been available for years but have lacked proper funding and adoption. Sentinel can provide the design, implementation, and support services combined with solutions from our partners to increase your capacity and capabilities in a matter of days if required.
Connect From Anywhere
During a crisis, it is important that all workers have the ability to immediately access critical applications from anywhere. Your current capabilities may only require an expansion of capacity for internet and VPN, or your situation might be more complicated and require services such as emergency virtual desktops. If your organization doesn't have a mobile workforce plan, company-issued laptops, and regular mobility testing for all workers, you may encounter challenges when working remotely. Sentinel wants to help ensure your employees can connect and compute quickly and securely from anywhere during critical situations.
Sentinel has the proven ability to assist customers with mobile devices and laptop imaging as well as delivering on demand, public cloud-based virtual desktop services from our partners at Amazon and Microsoft. Traditional VDI solutions require large hardware purchases, long design cycles, and on-site installation, which can take months or years in addition to being quite costly. Sentinel’s cloud compute now services connect you with an architect to engineer a solution for your network and users. We have quick turnaround plans able to deliver compute on demand (VDI) services in a few weeks or less. These proof of concept services for cloud virtual compute can support nearly every device your users have, and includes trial periods of up to 90 days.
Stay Secure Everywhere
While the health of your workers remains a top priority, don't forget about the health of your systems. Your organization needs to consider cyber security when rushing to provide remote capabilities for a large portion of your staff in short timeframes. Sentinel provides solutions across all areas of the NIST cyber security framework. Our Advisory consultants can assist in creating a “work from home” security policy. Protection, detection, and response is provided via technologies from Sentinel’s partnerships with global security leaders. Also, in the unfortunate event that your organization experiences a security breach, Sentinel Incident Response Services stand ready to help you recover critical assets to minimize both business loss and damage to your reputation.
Sentinel cyber security experts stand ready to assist you in defining a mobile cyber security strategy now. Leverage our experts and proven experience in creating a mobile strategy to support your work from home initiatives to meet immediate challenges and your long-term mobile workforce needs.
If you are interested in learning more about any of the solutions outlined above, please contact Sentinel for additional information. We hope that you stay safe and healthy during this unprecedented and difficult time, and look forward to assisting with your technology needs today and in the future.
Sentinel Helps A Financial Institution Achieve Dividends With Customer Care Technology
A financial institution was having issues with their aging and scrambled Cisco customer contact center platform. Their dated Cisco collaboration environment had been in place for well over a decade. Over that time, the customer had worked with multiple vendors/partners on a variety of tasks, including upgrades, additions, and process changes. The revolving door of management, team members, and partners also created a situation where critical information about the system as well as key operational details were not passed along to the next people to take over those roles.
The organization was also struggling to define attainable and measurable business objectives in order to address concerns about customer satisfaction and improve efficiencies surrounding customer interactions.
Sentinel decided to work with the customer to address their system issues in a proactive and holistic manner, rather than waiting for individual problems to arise and handling them one by one. This would enable the business units to focus their energy on clearly defining the objectives of the organization and mapping them to the appropriate features and technologies. We recommended Sentinel’s Advisory Services to help.
Sentinel’s Advisory Services engaged with the customer through a workshop format. Key members of management and staff gathered in a non-technical environment to assess all of the relevant items, topics, and issues, then assigned them each a priority level based on importance, relevance, and measurability. They defined goals and objectives, made a list of all the elements required to complete them, and established a solutions summary with detailed recommendations and next steps.
This was a multi-phased methodology that ensured the goals developed for management were “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound”. The strategic plan encompassed functional requirements, solution costs, action/activity timelines, and their expected impact.
The key goals included (but weren’t limited to):
+Address the growing number of customers asking for multiple ways/platforms to interact with the organization (omni-channel)
+Establish self-service capabilities for customers
+Reduce call abandonment rate
+Develop more accurate activity awareness metrics
+Improve reporting and data collection
+Provide the administration with change capabilities outside of IT
+Strengthen call capacity management
+Install call recording features and other capabilities
+Use agent skills routing to improve service call quality and efficiency
The organization faced a number of different challenges and roadblocks while working toward their goals, such as:
+Additional Employee Training
+Lack of Support
+Securing the Proper Budget/Funding
+Incompatible Policies and Processes
+Convincing Employees to Accept New Methods/Systemic Changes
+Under Staffing and Deficient Skillsets
Once the customer’s business goals and objectives were clearly defined, Sentinel provided solutions to address, fix, change, remediate, delete, add, and track activity using metrics. Solutions included a reduction in configuration complexities, native feature configurations, and new products, as well as customizations for scripting, reporting, and training.
Through the collaboration workshop created by Sentinel’s Advisory Services for this customer’s situation, we were able to not only save their current investment, but build upon it. Their faith and comfort grew as they learned new skills and became reacquainted with the refreshed systems in their environment. It helped them to gain a better perspective and understand how their own business processes map to the technology.
The customer’s systems were essentially “cleaned up” and realigned according to industry best practices and configurations. These routing efficiencies and standardizations improved performance and gave administrators a better understanding of the tools and solutions within their corporate environment.
The customer also gained a stronger understanding of metrics and reporting, which enabled them to gather and track data for historical significance and the measurement of key performance indicators.
About Sentinel Collaboration Advisory Services™
There are two methods by which Sentinel will engage and advisory effort, they are “strategic” and “tactical”.
The strategic assessment approach aligns organizational goals and objectives with technology recommendations. Sentinel will meet with key organization stakeholders to gain insight into current challenges as well as future initiatives. This process will provide guidance for the analysis and recommendation phases of the engagement. Sentinel will gather information about the current technology area, i.e. collaboration, etc. infrastructure, topology, devices, and configuration to review it for technical best practice adherence and alignment with organizational goals. A prioritized list of recommendations will be presented to the organization and linked to the key initiatives that are defined in prior phases.
The tactical assessment approach does not consider overall organizational goals and objectives and is meant to serve as a focused “immediate fix” set of recommendations. Sentinel will gather information about the current technology, i.e. collaboration, etc. infrastructure, topology, devices, and configuration to review it for technical best practice. A prioritized list of recommendations will be presented to the organization for review.
The goals of these assessments are to provide comprehensive analysis and an objective review of the current implementation, along with insights into any future changes that should be made.