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Networking 101: Understanding Microsegmentation

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Microsegmentation is the process of separating the data and systems in your network into smaller categories for granular security measures.

Microsegmentation is the process of separating the data and systems in your network into smaller categories and use cases. This granular breakdown enables you to add more specific security parameters and authentication requirements to each group, rather than casting a wider net of security around the whole network. 

The microsegmentation approach helps your network in many ways, particularly for enterprises that want to classify and add greater safeguards to the most sensitive data collections in their network. Microsegmentation is one of the first and most important steps in creating a zero trust network, or a policy that trusts neither internal nor external users and devices without verification and limitations.

Read More: Steps to Building a Zero Trust Network

Table of Contents:

How is Microsegmentation Different from Network Segmentation?

Microsegmentation is often confused with the more general approach known as network segmentation. Network segmentation involves creating security perimeters, firewalls, passwords, and other authentication methods around the entire attack surface or individual attack surfaces. But once an attacker is in, they can easily move across that surface. If there are sensitive data present in a network segment, the data have not necessarily been separated from other data and likely do not have their own security protocols. 

With microsegmentation, the data in the network is completely mapped out, categorized, and separated by level of importance and access needed. More specific security perimeters are applied to the most sensitive microsegments of data once they are identified, along with other safeguards like multi-factor authentication requirements.

An Analogy: Microsegmentation in Schools

Let's consider the example of school security for comparison. Enterprise network security shares many parallels with the security applied to most public schools around the United States. 

Network segmentation looks a lot like basic school security, or the automatic lock entrance doors around the outside of the building. These doors are great safety measures to keep strangers outside of the building in most cases, but if they happen to get into the building at any of these entry points, they now have access to the whole school. 

Microsegmentation in school security, then, would look like individual locking doors to each classroom, the secretary who sits in the front office before the principal's office, school security officers who patrol the building, guest passes that visitors must wear at all times, and other "gatekeeper" features that protect individual parts of the school. 

To extend this analogy further, the microsegmentation provided through gatekeepers also makes it easier to spot and bring down an intruder in the school. If the areas that intruders can access are limited through internal locks throughout the building, they'll be easier to find and apprehend in common areas. You may also have someone, like a secretary or security officer, who catches that individual in their area of the school and notifies the rest of the school about the security threat to prevent further threats. 

In a network with microsegmentation, these microsegments and their authentication features prevent movement across the network and can notify the overall network if there's a breach in one specific area.

More on Microsegmentation and Security: Microsegmentation: The Next Evolution in Cybersecurity

Why Should Enterprise Networks Apply Microsegmentation?

Microsegmentation should be applied to networks of all sizes, but especially to enterprise networks with hundreds of databases and devices. It's difficult to track the whereabouts of your sensitive data and when and how it's being used, especially as your employees and their devices spread across the globe. Here are just a few reasons why you should implement microsegmentation to protect your enterprise network:  

The Basic Infrastructure of a Zero Trust Policy

You cannot always trust that data is being used when and how it should be. That's why many enterprises are implementing zero trust policies, requiring all users and devices to verify who they are before they can proceed in the network. Microsegmentation is one of the most important required steps in building a zero trust network for the following reasons:

  • Microsegmentation helps you to identify your most sensitive data and group it into categories like personal information, health information, and financial information. This gives your network greater visibility into the types of data that you want and need to protect.

  • With your sensitive microsegments identified, you can apply multi-factor authentication to protect that data beyond the protection on the rest of the network. This helps you to plan where additional cost and time should be spent in your network security plan.

  • External and internal threats are both possible. With microsegmentation and the security measures that come with it, you can identify where an attack is coming from and stop it at the source. For enterprises with employees at all levels, this also helps you to identify if an employee has accidentally broken security protocols or if they are acting with malicious intent.

Customer Privacy and Enterprise Credibility

Many enterprises store sensitive customer or employee data, such as personally identifiable information (PII) or protected health information (PHI). If this data falls victim to a breach, it could put the finances or safety of these individuals at risk, both before and after the breach is detected. 

Enterprises will have to communicate with affected customers during a breach, and if the breach is bad enough, the media will likely cover the breach, i.e. the Equifax breach of 2017. At minimum, security breaches decrease trust in an enterprise's credibility over time.

Through the process of microsegmentation, enterprise networks intentionally build an infrastructure that recognizes customer data as sensitive data and separates it out for higher levels of protection. Breaches are still possible and can still cause damage, but customer data is more likely to stay safe behind the microsegment's additional authentication requirements. 

New Workplace Settings and Devices

Many users now work remotely and use different devices with different levels of security and sophistication. You want these users to have all of the access that they need to do their jobs well, but you don't want to give them or outside users unnecessary levels of access to your company data. 

Microsegmentation helps to protect the most sensitive parts of your network, even if these users have new ways to bypass traditional security in the cloud via edge network devices.

Also Read: Approaches to Cybersecurity in 5G-driven Enterprise Networks

The Future of Microsegmentation and Cellular Technology

Enterprise networks maintain many of the traditional features of a wired network, but with the widespread access to 4G and 5G cellular technology, users and devices can now access and transmit data through wireless networks, cloud and edge computing, and even some IoT devices. 

Data no longer has to be stored or retrieved from the central hubs of your network, which increases the speed of access, but also decreases data visibility for your network's administrators. Your enterprise may never be able to centralize data access points ever again, but through a microsegmentation approach, they can limit the "who," "what," "when," and "where" of how distant users and devices access data.

Microsegmentation will be even more important if 6G develops in the next decade, because experts predict that device-to-device data transmission will become a reality. The speed and accessibility of this development is exciting. However, it also leaves data more vulnerable since it can move to new locations and devices at greater speeds than ever before. 

Microsegmentation ensures that more barriers sit in the way of these users and devices when they try to access data that they don't need, protecting your data but still leaving data open to approved enterprise network uses.

Read Next: Going Beyond 5G: What to Expect from a 6G Future

This article was originally published on Thursday Apr 15th 2021