We all know the adage, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” When it comes to network segmentation, this takes on a whole new meaning. When segmenting your organization’s network, you have the opportunity to both strengthen and weaken your IT security.
Many teams may be hesitant to take the leap into the world of network segmentation because they know it’s complicated and can be difficult, but if you look into the best ways to go about segmenting your organization’s network, you can actually create stronger IT infrastructure than you had before you started. Your chain may only be as strong as the weakest link, so it’s up to you to make sure you have no weak links.
In today’s blog, we’re going to take a moment to discuss the emerging trends of network segmentation and understand how a more robust network setup will help future-proof your organization and give your team members peace of mind when going about their daily tasks.
What Actually is Network Segmentation?
Network segmentation works by dividing a computer network into smaller parts. The purpose is to improve network performance and security. Other terms that often mean the same thing are network segregation, network partitioning, and network isolation. This can be super broad or also done at a more micro level, depending on an organization’s needs, regulations and traffic.
Segmenting a network also allows administrators to control the flow of traffic based on policies. For example, think of a large healthcare system with a half dozen locations. There are going to be database restrictions based on location and department. Administrative employees don’t need access to patients’ charts and the medical staff doesn’t need access to billing. Their security policy may limit or restrict access to different areas of its system in order to both protect private information as well as boost speeds. Network segmentation is at work here by preventing traffic from both sets of users from reaching systems they don’t need or shouldn’t have access to.
Think of network segmentation like a highway overpass in a busy part of town. By providing an option for most of the traffic to bypass more specialized or secure areas of IT infrastructure, there are fewer bottlenecks and risks of disasters in critical areas. When car traffic is able to take an overpass through a town, ambulances can get to the hospital more efficiently and do what they need to do. Similarly, in the case of the healthcare system, the overall traffic is reduced and its various systems perform better for the employees who utilize them on a daily basis. In addition to better performance, the restricted access to this business-critical system improves overall security.
Why is Network Segmentation Valuable?
Network segmentation holds many benefits for any organization who chooses to implement it as part of its comprehensive IT security plan. Here are a few of our favorite reasons, but keep in mind that the list is by no means exhaustive and organizations can benefit in a variety of other ways based on industry, size, and type of infrastructure.
Network Segmentation Levels Up Your Security
While an organization’s firewalls and other cybersecurity processes are critical practices, they are not failsafe and may, at some point, be unable to block or detect vulnerabilities or malicious actions taken against your IT infrastructure. Network segmentation adds several additional boundaries between your mission-critical assets and the outside world, creating capabilities to detect and efficiently respond to threats as they arise.
Many organizations think of their cybersecurity policies as a way to protect from external threat actors, often citing a policy of zero trust. A solid cybersecurity strategy with an external focus will certainly detect external threats but will probably be lacking when it comes to detecting threat actors from the inside or other types of vulnerabilities created by unknowing employees. Network segmentation restricts access and provides more visibility to ensure you can also manage any arising internal threats.
Moving back to external threats, in the event a workstation or other user endpoint is compromised by a cyber-criminal, the criminals can easily move into the network and attempt to access other critical systems to further exploit your network, hold information for ransom or mount other abhorrent attacks. Network segmentation significantly lowers your risk of threat actors being able access other areas of your infrastructure and makes for more efficient threat detection as the attackers attempt to move across your segmented boundaries.
Enhanced Performance and Speeds
Network segmentation gives your team a better look at the traffic that passes through your systems. This visibility has a few key benefits: being able to see internal traffic gives your organization metrics to understand where traffic speeds can be improved and also allows for early detection of suspicious internal traffic, effectively killing two birds with one stone by making your system more secure and providing ample opportunity to re-route traffic to improve network speed by minimizing bottlenecks across the organization.
Better Scalable Protection
A critical pillar of your IT security strategy is ensuring your high-availability systems are kept safe from known and emerging cyber threats at any stage in your organization’s growth. That means placing them on highly secure and isolated network segments that have room for expansion.
At this stage, if your organization is experiencing growth, it’s probably seeing an increase in endpoints, which is making you more vulnerable for a wide variety of cyber-attacks. Between BYOD policies, the past year’s work from home orders, and the increase in IoT usage across industries, there have been a number of untrusted or less-secure devices logging on to your networks. When you implement network segmentation, you limit their threat to your organization’s network. An increase in devices doesn’t have to mean a proportional decrease in protection.
Your Auditor Will Notice
By adding this vital layer to your IT security strategy, you will reap the benefits whenever your audit rolls around. Penetration testing and other regulatory compliance tests that may happen during your audit involve every single machine within your organization with access to protected data in your system. When you segment your network, you limit the scope of access by confining your protected and classified sets of data to specific segments in your network, which can take a tremendous burden off your staff members who are responsible for compliance processes.
Internal Firewalling: The New Trends in Network Segmentation
Now that you’re up-to-speed on what network segmentation can do for your organization, it’s time to dive a little deeper into the new trend on the scene, one that’s been tried, tested and here to protect your business. Internal firewalling is now finding its way into many organizations’ IT security arsenal. Plainly, internal firewalling means leveraging an internal firewall to initiate the segmentation of your organization’s networks. According to VMware, internal firewalls employ two key strategies:
- Minimize the attack surface via micro-segmentation, effectively dividing the network into granular, separately secured zones
- Use intelligent automation to deploy and update security policies based on previously recorded good behavior
The firewalls used to implement network segmentation also give you the power to enforce a variety of access control measures, which mitigates the risk of both internal and external threat actors. When you firewall correctly, you have the ability to get very specific with your network access policies and can limit access to crucial assets on an as-needed basis.
Virtual and Physical
When setting up your network segmentation strategy, it’s important to understand how your organization’s IT infrastructure is set up and how your data and systems are split between two different environments: the virtual and physical. The physical is self-explanatory, including any infrastructure your organization has in data centers. The virtual pertains to any cloud environments you use for any reason. Your network segmentation strategy should include safeguards to protect both kinds of environments so you can remove a significant burden from the shoulders of your IT team.
When it comes to your virtual segmentation, the focus of your provider on their ability to segment your cloud environments. Technologies like virtual switching will make it possible for you to monitor and control access to various areas of your cloud infrastructure. If you’re looking for a good example of virtual switching, we recommend you take a look at VMware NSX to see how you can optimally switch between cloud environments.
The same thing happens in data centers, when you’re looking to segment your physical environment. For business continuity and disaster recovery purposes, it’s recommended that you don’t put all your IT in one data center but rather opt for at least one remote location. Switching technologies between different parts of your IT infrastructure, no matter the location, are paramount to network segmentation success.
Who Do You Want in Your Corner?
When implementing both more traditional network segmentation and internal firewalling, make sure your organization goes with a managed security services provider who can attend to both the physical and virtual elements of your organization’s IT infrastructure.
No matter what industry you align with, you’ve probably seen some significant changes over the last several years in how you conduct business. Your network provider should be adapting and evolving as well. A solid next-gen network will have the highest standards of scalability and flexibility to support a wide variety of industry and organizational requirements. As we discussed before, network segmentation can (and should) occur at the virtual and physical levels. Your provider should be able to seamlessly conduct both types of segmentation efforts as to be the most cost-effective and efficient option for your organization.
When looking for a network provider, be sure that you ask questions about their proficiency with network segmentation at the physical and virtual level as well as their ability to scale up quickly as needed. If your provider checks those boxes, they will be able to give you the support and security you need to move forward with your IT security upgrades.
Take Advantage of LightEdge’s Unrivaled Network
When asked about our differentiators, the first answer is always – our network. LightEdge designs all of our purpose-built facilities and services around connectivity first. That means unparalleled scale, redundancy, speed, and uptime for your business and the clients you serve. It also means our commitment to your security is paramount and we have leveraged the best possible VMware virtual and physical switching technologies to ensure both your cloud and your racks on the ground stay protected and segmented.
We spent over two decades perfecting our network and infrastructure to be the most scalable, redundant, and secure in the US. Today, LightEdge has narrowed our focus to supporting the most highly regulated organizations with our Tier III data centers and compliant cloud offerings. Although, one thing has stayed constant – everything we do is built around our unrivaled network.
We understand your top priorities when it comes to connectivity:
- Your applications are always up.
- Your network is always secure.
- Your applications are always fastfor end users.
Have confidence that LightEdge has built every inch of our network to deliver on those high expectations—and then some.
As internal and external threat actors continue to mount more complex attacks against networks, it’s important to have a long look at your network. As the leader in connectivity, LightEdge takes a proactive stance to deliver the top network safeguards every organization should have. Our internet is inherently built to handle mission-critical, compliant workloads. On top of that includes security. We’ve got your network segmentation strategy covered to upgrade your LightEdge network experience and protect against anything that comes your way.
We do understand that it may be too late in some instances and you may already be in emergency, reactive mode. If your company is currently under attack, LightEdge can step in to assist and work with you to figure out a solution. Let’s schedule a call to see how LightEdge can help get you up-to-date on the most current recommendations in network segmentation to keep your network fast and secure.
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