What is network segmentation and how does it improve security?

What is network segmentation and how does it improve security?

Hackers are always looking for new ways to break into secure networks. Once inside, they can steal sensitive information, perform ransomware attacks, and more. Therefore, network security is a major concern for any business.

One way to protect a system from attack is to use network segmentation. It doesn’t necessarily keep hackers out of a network, but it can significantly reduce the damage they’re capable of doing if they find a way in.

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So what is network segmentation and how should it be implemented?

What is network segmentation?

Network segmentation is the act of dividing a network into smaller segments. All of these segments act as smaller independent networks. Users are then provided with access to individual segments rather than the network as a whole.

Network segmentation has many benefits, but from a security standpoint, its main purpose is to restrict access to important systems. If a hacker breaches one part of a network, he shouldn’t automatically have access to all of it. Network segmentation can also protect against insider threats.


How does network segmentation work?

Network segmentation can be done physically or logically.

Physical segmentation implies that a network is divided into different subnetworks. The subnets are then separated using physical or virtual firewalls.

Logical segmentation also implies that a network is divided into subnets, but access is controlled using VLANs or network addressing schemes.

Physical segmentation is easier to implement. But it is usually more expensive because it often requires new wiring and equipment. Logical segmentation is more flexible and allows you to make adjustments without changing any hardware.

Security benefits of network segmentation

If implemented correctly, network segmentation offers a variety of security benefits.

Greater data privacy

Network segmentation allows you to keep your most private data on your own network and limit which other networks have access to it. If a network intrusion occurs, this can prevent the hacker from gaining access to sensitive information.

Slow down hackers

Network segmentation can significantly reduce the damage caused by a network intrusion. In a properly segmented network, any intruder will only have access to a single segment. They may be trying to access other segments, but while they’re at it, your business has time to react. Ideally, intruders only have access to unimportant systems before they are discovered and repelled.

Implement least privilege

Network segmentation is an important part of implementing least privilege policies. Least privilege policies are based on the idea that all users are given only the level of access or privilege necessary to do their job.

It makes malicious activity from insiders more difficult to pull off and reduces the threat posed by stolen credentials. Network segmentation is useful for this purpose because it allows users to be verified as they travel through a network.


Increased monitoring

Network segmentation makes it easy to monitor a network and track users as they access different areas. This is useful to prevent malicious actors from going where they are not supposed to. It can also help identify suspicious behavior by legitimate users. This can be achieved by logging all users as they access different segments.

Faster Incident Response

To repel a network intruder, the IT team needs to know where the intrusion is happening. Network segmentation can provide this information by reducing the location to a single segment and keeping them there. This can significantly increase the speed of incident response.

Increase IoT security

IoT devices are an increasingly common part of business networks. While these devices are useful, they are also popular targets for hackers due to their inherently poor security. Network segmentation allows these devices to stay on their own network. If such a device is breached, the hacker will not be able to use it to access the rest of the network.

How to implement network segmentation

The ability of network segmentation to increase security depends on how it is implemented.

Keep private data separate

Before implementing network segmentation, all business assets must be classified according to risk. Assets with the most valuable data, like customer information, should be kept separate from everything else. Access to that segment must then be strictly controlled.

Implement least privilege

Each network user should only have access to the specific segment required to do their job. Special attention should be paid to who has access to segments that have been classified as high risk.

Group similar assets

Assets that are similar in terms of risk and are often accessed by the same users should be placed in the same bucket, wherever possible. This reduces network complexity and makes it easier for users to access what they need. It also allows security policies for similar assets to be updated in bulk.

It can be tempting to add as many segments as possible because this obviously makes it more difficult for hackers to access anything. However, excessive segmentation also makes things difficult for legitimate users.

Consider legitimate and illegitimate users

The network architecture must be designed with both legitimate and illegitimate users in mind. You don’t want to keep authenticating legitimate users, but every barrier a hacker must cross is useful. When deciding how segments are connected, try to incorporate both scenarios.

Restrict third party access

Third-party access is a requirement of many commercial networks, but it also carries significant risk. If the third party is breached, your network may also be compromised. Network segmentation must take this into account and be designed so that third parties cannot access any type of private information.

Segmentation is an important part of network security

Network segmentation is a powerful tool to prevent a network intruder from accessing sensitive information or attacking a company. It also allows users to be monitored on a network and this reduces the threat posed by insider threats.

The effectiveness of network segmentation is implementation dependent. Segmentation should be done in such a way that sensitive information is difficult to access, but not at the cost that legitimate users cannot access the required information.

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