How to achieve network security: 4 essential steps for IT professionals
1. Shrink your perimeter
The traditional strategy for network security involves creating one large security perimeter around your entire enterprise network to protect all the data, accounts, devices, and applications contained within—even those hosted in the cloud, at remote branch offices, and in small edge data centers. The security controls and policies in use by this perimeter need to account for every single vulnerability and attack surface. Often, that leaves you with a complex, bloated patchwork of security appliances and services that are difficult to manage across multiple vendors and platforms. The harder it is to manage your security perimeter, the more likely you are to accidentally leave gaps in your coverage or miss the subtler signs of a potential breach.
To achieve network security in your enterprise, you need to shrink your perimeter and focus on protecting the individual data, applications, assets, and services at risk. You do this by micro-segmenting your network to logically separate your data, applications, assets, and services. This allows you to create micro-perimeters of highly specific policies and controls that account for the security risks, vulnerabilities, sensitivity, and value of each of your enterprise resources.
Shrinking your security perimeter and micro-segmenting your network also facilitates the implementation of zero trust security. Learn more about the importance of micro-segmentation for zero trust networks.
2. Never trust, always verify
Zero trust security is a proven strategy for protecting enterprise networks – in fact, the President signed an executive order in 2021 urging organizations to adopt a zero trust architecture. Zero trust security follows the principle of “never trust, always verify.” That means you don’t automatically assume the trustworthiness of any network entities even if they’re on your internal enterprise network. You also reduce the privileges granted to any individual account, making sure each network entity has access to the specific resources they need and nothing more. This reduces the lateral movement of a compromised account and limits the amount of damage that can be inflicted during an attack.
To apply and enforce zero trust access policies, you need an identity and access management (IAM) solution that allows you to dynamically and consistently assess an entity’s trustworthiness based on the context of the situation. Many IAM platforms utilize user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA), which monitors the activity of accounts and devices on your network to establish a baseline of behavior. UEBA can then use that baseline to determine when a network entity is behaving in a risky or unusual way, and then force that entity to reestablish trust before it accesses any new resources.
Zero trust security uses the methodology of “never trust, always verify” to limit the damage done by compromised user accounts and devices on your network. Learn more in our ultimate guide to a zero trust security model for an enterprise.
3. Secure your network edge
If your enterprise includes branch offices, work-from-home employees, small data centers, and other remote locations, you need a strategy to secure your network edge. Typically, that means backhauling all remote traffic through a firewall in the central data center, even if that traffic is bound for cloud resources. This can create bottlenecks in your enterprise network and reduce productivity.
Security service edge, or SSE, uses a cloud-based security stack to monitor and protect your remote, cloud-destined traffic without needing to route through your data center. SSE uses technologies like zero trust network access (ZTNA), secure web gateways (SWG), cloud access security brokers (CASB), and firewall as a service (FWaaS) to secure your edge traffic. Each of these security controls is delivered as a cloud-based service, so your remote users and devices can access your cloud resources securely without routing through your main firewall.
Security service edge, or SSE, provides enterprise-grade protection to your edge networks without impacting network performance or productivity. Learn more in What is security service edge (SSE)? Everything you need to know.
4. Reduce human error
According to Gartner, up to 99% of firewall breaches are caused by human error. When IT professionals need to manually configure and manage many different devices in a complex enterprise network, the risk of human error increases. A misconfigured security setting or user account could create vulnerabilities and leave you exposed to attacks. One way to reduce human error and the associated risk of a security breach is through network automation.
For example, zero touch provisioning can be leveraged to automatically configure and deploy network appliances. Software-defined networking (SDN) and infrastructure as code (IaC) are methods for decoupling device configurations from the underlying hardware, which allows you to use automated scripts to configure, update, and manage appliances and computing resources. Software-defined wide area networking, or SD-WAN, provides the same software abstraction and automation capabilities for your remote edge network infrastructure.
Network automation reduces the risk of configuration mistakes, which contributes to a more secure enterprise network. Plus, network automation is critical if you want to implement NetDevOps. Learn more about the importance of NetDevOps automation for modern networks.
To achieve network security, you need to rethink the old “castle and moat” strategy in which you have one big security perimeter (the moat) surrounding your entire enterprise and you assume everything within that perimeter (the castle) is safe and trustworthy. You should also consider a cloud-based approach to protecting your remote, cloud-destined traffic to improve the security and performance of your entire enterprise. Finally, you should use network automation to reduce the time you’re spending on tedious configurations, which will help eliminate configuration mistakes.
Achieve network security with the right solution
When you’re following the steps above, you’re likely to face a few challenges. For example, vendor lock-in can make it difficult to apply zero trust security controls or integrate third-party automation solutions. Additionally, to route your edge traffic through an SSE technology stack such as Zscaler or Cloudflare, you need an SD-WAN on-ramp with the ability to intelligently identify and re-route cloud-destined traffic. Plus, implementing all these security technologies can leave you with many different solutions to manage, increasing the complexity and difficulty of your enterprise network management.
ZPE Systems solves all these challenges with an innovative and vendor-neutral family of network management solutions. ZPE’s line of network edge routers and data center serial consoles runs on the Nodegrid OS, an open, x86 Linux-based operating system that allows easy integrations with zero trust security solutions and supports third-party automation via tools like Ansible and Chef. ZPE’s SD-WAN platform is the best on-ramp to your SSE stack, providing a secure, lightweight cloud solution from which to manage your edge network. Plus, with ZPE Cloud, you can consolidate management of your entire network behind one pane of glass, allowing you to efficiently deploy and orchestrate your network security strategy.