NetworkingWhat is Microsegmentation?

What is Microsegmentation?

Microsegmentation is a network security approach that allows engineers to logically partition data centers into discrete security segments—right down to the level of each task—and apply security policies to each segment separately. Rather than establishing numerous physical firewalls, microsegmentation allows IT to set flexible security policies deep inside a data center.

With microsegmentation, you can secure every virtual instance or virtual machine (VM), bare-metal server, or container in an enterprise network using policy-based, application-level security controls. This can dramatically increase your company’s defense against attacks and improve your overall cybersecurity posture.

Why is microsegmentation important?

Microsegmentation is best suited for east-west traffic within the data center, where traffic moves from the app to a server, between servers, or across the cloud network. Therefore, microsegmentation is the best way to arrange workloads intelligently based on how they interact inside the data center.

Additionally, microsegmentation is stronger and more dependable for network security because it doesn’t rely on dynamically changing networks or the business or technical constraints placed on them. It is a crucial component of the zero-trust network access (ZTNA) paradigm, which has been shown to make access control simpler.

With microsegmentation, you can defend a segment with a small number of identity-based firewall policies as opposed to hundreds of address-based firewall policies. 

Read more on eSecurity Planet: Microsegmentation: The Next Evolution in Cybersecurity

Microsegmentation vs traditional network segmentation

Microsegmentation and traditional network segmentation are similar in that they both attempt to monitor network traffic and access, but it’s important to understand the differences between each approach.

Traditional network segmentation

Traditional network segmentation divides the corporate network into zones. A next-generation firewall (NGFW) must inspect any traffic that tries to cross the border between zones. This gives a business better network visibility and the capacity to spot and prevent an attacker’s attempted lateral movement.

The security and regulatory compliance plans of a business must include network segmentation. An organization cannot successfully enforce access rules or prevent an attacker’s movement if it is unable to inspect the traffic within its network. 

Using network segmentation, a network security engineer can:

  • Create subnetworks within the overall network 
  • Protect VMs, containers, cloud, and data centers
  • Control north-south network traffic
  • Deploy policies at the segment and network levels
  • Enforce policies on VMs and hosts

Microsegmentation

Rather than broad zones, microsegmentation gives each device or even each application its own segment within the network and examines all communication between applications or devices for possible malicious activities. 

To implement microsegmentation, security engineers can use software-defined networking (SDN) to route traffic through an inspection point like an NGFW, thanks to SDN’s virtualization of the network infrastructure. This NGFW can spot potential lateral attacker movement and prevent any unauthorized access to business resources.

Microsegmentation is crucial for an organization to successfully implement a zero-trust security posture. The capacity to prohibit any unauthorized access to a device or application is important for zero-trust, which inspects all traffic to that resource regardless of where it came from.

Microsegmentation offers security, performance, and application comprehension in network infrastructure. Using this technology, a security engineer can:

  • Have detailed visibility into workloads
  • Logically divide the data center components into discrete security segments up to individual applications levels
  • Centrally manage to reduce the overhead of managing security for individual hosts
  • Enforce granular policies on subnets and VLANs
  • Control east-west traffic
  • Enforce policies up to 7 layers of the OSI model

Benefits of microsegmentation

Organizations can benefit from microsegmentation in several ways, including enhanced operational proficiency, improved network visibility and monitoring, advanced application understanding, limited lateral movement, and centralized policy management.

Enhanced operational proficiency 

You can implement microsegmentation software to remove the requirement of individual firewalls and ACLs (access control lists). By switching to SDN, network segmentation and access control policies are easier to define, monitor, and manage efficiently. This helps in achieving resiliency and improving operational efficiency.

Improved network traffic visibility and monitoring

Microsegmentation offers better network visibility. Data flows between workloads are completely visible and under your control, which can improve the detection and remediation of cybersecurity incidents. 

By applying microsegmentation to a particular device or group of devices based on the intended users, you can gain fine-grained visibility into the activity taking place within each component that has been segmented. You can also configure your alert management systems on a segment-by-segment basis so you can monitor isolated segments.

Advanced application understanding 

Networking and security teams may monitor all data flow between their various workloads with microsegmentation which makes it easier to understand how various workloads interact with one another and to see any loopholes that might be signs of vulnerabilities.

Limited lateral movement

Microsegmentation is an effective option if you wish to separate the workloads of different applications and accomplish actual application segmentation. 

By doing this, you can stop threats from moving laterally and control them inside the isolated segment that contains the application the threat was intended to affect. This lessens the organization’s vulnerability to attack and the chance of a data breach.

Centralized policy management 

Software-defined networking is frequently put into practice as a solitary, centralized solution that makes it simpler for networking and security professionals to manage security policies. When necessary, admins can easily alter policies to accommodate shifting network demands and evolving cyber threats.

The policy lifecycle is the most challenging aspect of implementing an efficient microsegmentation policy that adjusts to support changes to your apps and your business. Using microsegmentation, you can start at the macro level and iteratively refine through policy automation.

Microsegmentation software vendors

Without microsegmentation, attackers or intruders may be able to move from one part of your data center to another without much difficulty. Microsegmentation software offers granular security controls and policy-based triggers that help reduce the attack surface and protect workloads even after attackers have breached perimeter defenses.

Prominent vendors in the microsegmentation software market include Illumio, Algoblu, Guardicore, ShiledX, and others. 

Compare these solutions and others on eSecurity Planet: Top Microsegmentation Software

Who should use microsegmentation?

Microsegmentation is a tool that businesses can use in a variety of ways, but not all business environments are right for it. While some networks might benefit from segmentation, others might not, depending on the situation.

Generally speaking, enterprises that rely heavily on cloud resources or centralized data centers and have a high number of distant working devices will find microsegmentation to be a viable security choice.

For businesses in highly regulated industries where compliance is a top priority, microsegmentation is also advisable. For instance, healthcare businesses subject to HIPAA regulations could divide consumer information from the marketing, accounts, and research divisions.

In a larger sense, any company looking to build a Zero Trust Security Model based on the principle of least privilege will require microsegmentation. If you need to create comprehensive access lists for roles or persons and want complete visibility of user activities, SDN-based segmentation is viable.

Microsegmentation can be expensive to implement across large enterprises, especially when dealing with a lot of low-sensitivity network traffic. Therefore, smaller businesses that lack the resources to engage in sophisticated software-based segmentation can achieve effective perimeter protection using traditional network segmentation techniques.

Read next: Using Zero Trust Security to Protect Applications and Databases

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