What is Network Segmentation?
Here’s a hypothetical scenario; robbers invade a bank, hoping to collect as many valuables and money as quickly as possible. They manage to bypass the main door, but shock on them – they find an empty banking hall with nothing but furniture and a few electronics. So one by one, they break into the counters and check the drawers for any change. But, again, they’re disappointed only to find work equipment and a few employee personal stuff.
The thieves decide to leave with anything they can turn into money, as the bank took precautionary actions against such risks and safely kept its money in the vault. At the same time, they deposited a considerable percentage of their reserve funds to an account at their local Federal Reserve Bank.
The same concept applies to network segmentation, the practice of dividing a computer network into multiple components. While security isn’t the only reason to segment your network, it’s the most important because it prevents cyber threat actors from bringing your entire network down. Other reasons to segment your network include performance enhancement, improved monitoring, control of traffic flow, and more.
Let’s expound more on what network segmentation entails, how it works, and how it can benefit your organization.
What does Network Segmentation Entail?
As we’ve hinted above, network segmentation is the act of taking a larger computer network and dividing it into smaller subnets that are isolated from each other. That way, network admins can effortlessly monitor and control the traffic flow between subnets according to the set granular policies.
Basically, any two devices in a segmented network can communicate with each other. But for them to do so with a device on a separate segment, traffic must pass through an external demarcation station like a firewall or router. Hence, the network inspects and verifies the authenticity of the traffic to watch out for any malicious behavior, increasing overall security.
Segmentation also makes it trouble-free for security personnel to flag and block unauthorized users from accessing valuable business assets like customer data, confidential intellectual property, financial records, etc. That’s because the endpoint devices in an adequately segmented network only have the connectivity required for authentic business use, limiting the chances of a ransomware infection or a threat actor wreaking havoc from one system to another.
How can You Implement Network Segmentation?
There are different network segmentation approaches that you can mix and match, depending on your technical or business-specific requirements. These include:
Assigning a Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN).
If you wish to separate traffic at the switch level, assigning a VLAN is the most suitable approach. For instance, you can assign different VLANs to divide a portion of your network into smaller segments by business departments, say HR, Finance, Risk Management, etc. This enables the network security personnel to inspect or restrict traffic between departments. For example, you can limit access to the HR database to those devices on the departmental subnet or VLAN.
Deploying Different Zones with Separate Security Requirements
As the title suggests, this approach involves segmenting different endpoints according to their level of security vulnerability. That is, the more vulnerable a device is, the more secured it’ll be segmented. For instance, databases and servers are often segmented into a demilitarized zone (DMZ) with more robust security measures than other parts of the network. Thus, in the worst-case scenario that your company gets targeted by threat actors, the attack won’t spread to the server hosting confidential data.
Segmentation based on Device Type
Some devices are more vulnerable than others, thanks to the types of data that they store or transmit. In particular, IoT devices are usually segmented into their unique network partition to enhance security. For instance, in a hospital setting, CT scanners, X-ray machines, and other connected medical devices should be separated from the rest of the network, as they usually collect and transmit sensitive patient data that cybercriminals can compromise and cause significant damage.
How Can Network Segmentation Benefit Your Organization?
All along, we’ve reiterated how network segmentation can boost your organization’s security posture by preventing threat actors from executing widespread attacks. But besides that, how else can this strategy benefit your business? Find out in the section below!
Improve Operational Efficiency
One of the leading causes of downtime is the congestion of network traffic. Segmentation solves this issue by subdividing the entire network infrastructure into subnets so that one department’s activities don’t limit or derail the performance of other departments.
Reduce Scope of Compliance
Network segmentation also lowers the regulatory compliance costs by reducing the number of in-scope systems. By separating the payment processing systems from others, segmentation ensures that costly compliance requirements and audit processes only apply to the in-scope system and not the entire network.
Effortless Access Control
Segmenting your network infrastructure is one of the easiest ways to restrict user access to your organization’s sensitive data and systems. This makes it an invaluable strategy for protecting your business against both insider attacks and external intrusion.
Protection of Vulnerable Devices
Some devices are practically unable to protect themselves. Yet, some collect and transmit sensitive information that would leave a significant gap to your organization if compromised. Thankfully, segmentation provides much-needed security by blocking malicious traffic from reaching these devices.
Reduce Damage Following a Cyberattack
Having robust network segmentation can ensure that threat actors don’t break out of your security system before containing the breach and cutting them off. This limits the spread of the attack, reducing the damage. For instance, network segmentation can prevent malware infection of one section from spreading to other parts of the system.
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