Securing hybrid work and online services with SecureX
Serving 180,000 members remotely and through 23 branch locations, Lake Trust's top success objective is the digital security of its hybrid workforce, its customers, and their assets.
Industry: Financial services
Location: Brighton, Michigan
As with any financial institution, security threats risking reputation and financial future are inherent in Lake Trust Credit Union's business. "Financial institutions, to some extent, live and die by their reputation," comments Jack Martin, senior vice president information services at Lake Trust Credit Union.
But just as it is ingrained in its name, trust—implying security—is a top success factor and value pillar for this credit union. "As a financial institution, we must keep our members' finances private and secure at all times," remarks Steven Cruse, network security architect at Lake Trust Credit Union, "and that's the biggest challenge that we face."
Lake Trust has a distributed network architecture connecting its branches, ATMs, and data centers across 23 locations in addition to its headquarters in Brighton, Michigan. The pandemic caused much of its mostly onsite workforce to start working remotely. Most of Lake Trust's member services and transactions shifted online as well. This blurred the credit union's network perimeter. "Your edge isn't your edge anymore," explains Cruse. "As people are now working remotely from anywhere, we need to recognize that we don't necessarily have a central control point to secure our people, customers, and assets."
Like most organizations, Lake Trust now has a hybrid work environment. With a remote workforce and distributed branch locations, Lake Trust must have holistic visibility. "Visibility is extremely important. You can't investigate what you can't see," says Cruse.
Having gone through multiple mergers, the company used many point security solutions, thus lacking a cohesive security infrastructure and mindset. The disparate security products failed to provide a holistic view of Lake Trust's security posture, infrastructure, and endpoints. "There was no way for us to know if there were security gaps, and not knowing sometimes is worse than knowing," Cruse explains.
To troubleshoot any security event, the small security team had to hop across the point products, each with a different interface and reporting format, making security investigations time-consuming and ineffective. "Increasing our security, resiliency, and business continuity in the event of an attack are collectively a strategic directive for our organization," Cruse adds.
Lake Trust's security objectives demanded a cohesive system that provided unified visibility and defense at all layers. "When we started exploring security solutions, integration was the most important criteria," says Cruse. "We wanted to approach security as one integrated ecosystem to ensure defense-in-depth. And the vendor with the most cohesive security platform was Cisco."
With Cisco Secure, Lake Trust implemented an integrated security approach. "Cisco Secure stands out as a complete ecosystem built into the network, compute platform, storage, and applications," remarks Cruse. As a Cisco network and compute customer, Lake Trust's existing infrastructure integrated Cisco Secure seamlessly.
During the pandemic, when the number of Lake Trust's remote employees quickly spiked from around 10 to hundreds, the credit union could absorb the sudden transition securely without disrupting its high standards of financial services to its members—thanks to Cisco Secure.
Lake Trust was using SecureX integrated with Cisco Secure Endpoint and Cisco Umbrella even before the surge in remote work. The integrated solution offered complete visibility into endpoints regardless of location. "While investigating an alert or an event, SecureX doesn't make it much different for remote and on-site employees," continues Cruse. "Although remote work caused VPN traffic to increase 20 times, Cisco SecureX provided complete, comprehensive visibility into the remote endpoints and the VPN traffic to determine bandwidth consumption, allocation of resources, and so on."
Lake Trust's distributed and complex ecosystem needed full visibility and layered protection to mitigate advanced threats. "Cisco SecureX has a defense-in-depth capability that enables us to monitor what's happening throughout our ecosystem," Martin adds. "The integrated environment of SecureX provides the defenses we need to improve prevention and detection in our extended network."
SecureX is also a key component of Lake Trust's extended detection and response (XDR) strategy. "As our extended response tool, SecureX is a lifesaver in many ways. We use the tool several times daily to evaluate alerts and investigate threats," Cruse says. "SecureX simplifies how we treat remote workers versus those working on site. Regardless of their location, all our employees are protected the same, and the visibility we have is the same."
Lake Trust's security team must regularly mitigate advanced threats.
"We are fighting the same fight as the big banks but doing it with a lot fewer people. Partnering with companies like Cisco helps us be successful," says Martin.
SecureX has built-in orchestration, which allows the credit union to improve threat hunting by detecting new indicators of compromise and searching Lake Trust's infrastructure for those threats. Referring to a widespread ransomware attack affecting many companies worldwide, Martin explains, "We were able to recover in three hours from the event, including isolating the infected environment, taking it offline, and rebuilding a server with the same technology for restoring from our backup system."
Thanks to the SecureX integrated interface, Lake Trust's small security team's time to investigate and contain a security event is reduced to minutes, down from the previous eight or more hours. "What amazed me most is that within minutes of an event, we could go into SecureX and identify exactly what that event was. Before Cisco, it used to take us hours and hours to get to that level of understanding," comments Cruse.
Leveraging the automation and orchestration capabilities of SecureX, Lake Trust optimized its threat response and recovery. By eliminating repetitive tasks, the security team can quickly and easily identify a threat and assess the associated risk. "For example, during that widespread ransomware attack, SecureX helped expedite threat investigation, and Secure Endpoint prevented the threat from doing what it intended to do," says Cruse. "Our successful recovery and restoration far exceeded our peers. Thanks to SecureX, we could recover in a few hours, while some of our peers struggled with it for weeks."
In addition to preserving its members' financial privacy and well-being, Lake Trust must meet regulatory and internal business compliance requirements. Lake Trust is audited three to five times a year, which it successfully passes every time, thanks in large part to SecureX. "Our regulators are pleased with our Cisco partnership because it has placed Lake Trust ahead of the curve compared to some of our peers," says Martin.
Even as the financial industry remains vulnerable to increased threat activity and organized attacks, Lake Trust's security team is confident about protecting its remote banking services and hybrid workforce. "Thanks to Cisco, our biggest outcome with SecureX is peace of mind," explains Cruse. "SecureX provides unprecedented threat visibility. Now I feel much more confident about having a better understanding, more visibility, and the ability to identify something unusual in our environment in a very short period."
"There's no sitting still with security," Martin concludes. "We must continue advancing our capabilities so we can maintain a safe, secure, and high-quality working environment for our teams. Partnering with Cisco makes doing that a lot easier."