What is network security?
Network security refers to the tools, technologies and processes that protect an organization’s network and critical infrastructure from unauthorized use, cyberattacks, data loss and other security threats.
A comprehensive network security strategy leverages a combination of advanced technologies and human resources to prevent, detect, contain and remediate a variety of cyber threats. It will include protection for all hardware systems, software applications and endpoints, as well as the network itself and its various components, including network traffic, data and physical or cloud-based data centers.
How does network security work?
Network security is based on three main components: protection, detection and response.
Protection refers to any proactive security measures that the organization takes to prevent cyberattacks or other nefarious activity. This may include tools such as a next-gen antivirus (NGAV) or policies like privileged access management (PAM).
Detection is defined as any capability that helps the organization analyze network traffic, identify threats and contain them.
Most often, this capability is delivered in the form of an advanced endpoint detection and response (EDR) solution. An EDR is an intrusion detection tool that uses advanced data analytics to record and store network activity and identify suspicious system behavior. Most EDR tools also provide contextual information and remediation suggestions to cybersecurity specialists.
Response refers to the organization’s ability to remediate a security event as quickly as possible. Tools usually include a managed detection and response (MDR) system, which is a cybersecurity service that combines technology and human expertise to perform threat hunting, monitoring and response.
Response efforts may also include a formalized incident response (IR) plan. An IR plan outlines the steps the organization will take to prepare for, detect, contain and recover from a data breach or other security event.
Types of network security
Next-generation firewall (NGFW)
For many organizations, the first line of network protection is a next-generation firewall (NGFW). Like a traditional firewall, a NGFW inspects all incoming and outgoing network traffic and creates a barrier between internal and external networks based on trust principals, rules and other administrative settings. A NGFW also includes additional features like application awareness and control, intrusion prevention and threat intelligence services.
While an NGFW is a critical component within the overall network security plan, it does not provide complete protection and must be supplemented with other security tools and technologies.
It is also important to note that traditional firewalls are now considered obsolete as they are largely ineffective in preventing advanced attacks, particularly within the cloud environment. For that reason, organizations are advised to upgrade to an NGFW solution.
Next-generation antivirus (NGAV)
Next-generation antivirus (NGAV) is a network security tool that uses a combination of artificial intelligence, behavioral detection, machine learning algorithms and exploit mitigation, so known and unknown threats can be anticipated and immediately prevented. NGAV is cloud-based, which allows it to be deployed quickly and efficiently, reducing the burden of installing and maintaining software, managing infrastructure and updating signature databases for the IT or information security team.
Virtual private network (VPN)
A virtual private network (VPN) is a security tool that encrypts the connection from an endpoint to an organization’s network, allowing authorized users to safely connect and use the network from a remote setting. VPNs usually leverage advanced authentication methods to ensure both the device and user are authorized to access the network.
Web application firewall (WAF)
A web application firewall (WAF) is a security device designed to protect organizations at the application level by filtering, monitoring and analyzing hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS) traffic between the web application and the internet.
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Network security capabilities and policies
Since no single tool or technology is capable of providing complete protection, organizations must take a multifaceted approach to network security.
Here we explore some common network security capabilities and policies that can be integrated to prevent a variety of digital threats, as well as enhance detection, containment and remediation efforts.
Network security capabilities
- Malware Analysis: Malware analysis is the process of understanding the behavior and purpose of a suspicious file or URL. The output of the analysis aids in the detection and mitigation of the potential threat.
- Behavioral Analytics: Behavioral analytics is the process of gathering and analyzing network activity and establishing a baseline for comparison to help identify anomalous activity and indicators of compromise. Most behavioral analytics tools automate network monitoring and alerting, freeing the cybersecurity team to focus on higher-value activity such as remediation and investigation.
- Vulnerability Management: Vulnerability management is the ongoing, regular process of identifying, assessing, reporting, managing and remediating security vulnerabilities across endpoints, workloads and systems. Typically, a security team will leverage a vulnerability management tool to detect vulnerabilities and prioritize activity, as well patch or remediate them.
Network security policies
- Data Loss Prevention (DLP): Data loss prevention (DLP) is part of a company’s overall security strategy that focuses on detecting and preventing the loss, leakage or misuse of data through breaches, exfiltration transmissions and unauthorized use. Some DLP solutions can also provide alerts, enable encryption and isolate data when a breach or other security incident is detected.
- Privileged Access Management (PAM): Privileged access management (PAM) is the process of defining and controlling privileged users and administrative accounts in order to minimize identity-based malware attacks and prevent unauthorized access of the network or associated assets.
- Zero Trust: Zero Trust is a security framework that requires all users, whether inside or outside the organization’s network, to be authenticated, authorized and continuously validated for security configuration and posture before being granted or keeping access to applications and data.
How can you benefit from network security?
Network security is of critical importance given the rise in cybercrime over the past several decades. The growing trend of remote-based work, as well as the shift to the cloud, has expanded the attack surface, giving cybercriminals a wider range of targets and entry points to the network.
For many businesses, interruption of network service can result in significant losses in both revenue and productivity, as well as reputational harm. An advanced network attack can also result in fines or other penalties if the organization is determined to have relied on insufficient or ineffective network security measures.
Through a comprehensive network security strategy, organizations can:
- Protect trade secrets, intellectual property (IP) and other sensitive data
- Ensure the health and performance of the network and associated business operations
- Preserve the reputation of the organization