NordLayer - Network Security

Network Segmentation: 5 best practices

By NordLayer
15 Dec 2021
7 min read
Network Segmentation Best Practices

A network may sometimes become an overwhelmingly comprehensive computing system — so much so that it requires significant effort to constantly maintain and monitor traffic flow.

This challenge often occurs to enterprises as more than just a few endpoints are connected with network access; thus, exposure to security risks increases significantly. Breaking down the network into manageable segments not only improves the ability to watch over running processes more efficiently but has great benefits on network security and protection as well.

Business continuity and effectiveness are greatly enhanced once organizations implement network segmentation — before diving into deeper waters on understanding strategies and perks of its implementation, for a comprehensive network segmentation overview, complemented with real-life examples, we recommend checking out our article on the topic — What is Network Segmentation?

Network segmentation best practices

Once network segmentation is covered on ‘what’, it is important to look at ‘how’ the most effective security approach is achieved. A clearly defined segmentation process is crucial for the successful implementation of security measures like a Zero Trust solution that operate on a company network perimeter and segregate internal traffic, limiting potential attack surfaces to exposure of external and internal threats. 

To enhance network protection levels and build up as impeccable as possible security layers, critical systems need to be identified on a whole network. Such an approach helps to grade a network by matching compliance requirements and to simplify the adaptation of security policies on it. 

Avoid over-segmentation

Although isolating individual network assets is a great cybersecurity plan, there's the concern of excessive segmentation. If an enterprise network is too segmented, it will be harder to control and, thereby, perform poorly—hence affecting employee productivity. You must evaluate each segment and balance the applied security policies against the systems and data you want to protect. Otherwise, over-segmentation would be as effective as under-segmented networks by not fulfilling the purpose of enhancing network security.

Perform regular network audits

It's impossible for certain sectors to effectively isolate and safeguard what they don't know they have. Thus, scheduling frequent network audits, such as a risk assessment, will be critical to identify current assets along with the threats and vulnerabilities those systems face. Penetration testing is used to test the segmentation controls in place and uncover other avenues a malicious actor might take to gain access to systems and data.

Restricting third-party access

Most organizations today partner with multiple third-party vendors to address different needs. Even though not all vendors will require access to the company's backend systems, some will require a level of access to provide their services efficiently. The network segmentation best practice here is to create and separate access portals to serve each vendor. That way, if a vendor is unfortunately breached, the attackers cannot access your systems.

Combining network resources

One of the network segmentation best practices is to consolidate or combine similar network resources into individual databases. This tactic not only allows you to enact security policies quickly but also protects the extra-sensitive data more efficiently.

Network reliability & performance

Your network segmentation plan should not compromise the company's network performance. Most information security solutions struggle with meeting modern, dynamic intranet traffic. For instance, internal segmentation may restrict the digital innovations your business depends on to function effectively.

Even so, when properly implemented, segmenting your networks should improve the network performance as opposed to the adverse effect. It is vital to maintain consistent, reliable performance even as you retain policy enforcement across different segments.

Network Segmentation Planning and Implementation Strategies

As the best practices of network segmentation highlight the beneficial part of segregating a network in order to identify and cover security gaps, implementing network segmentation can also be disadvantageous. To avoid both over and under segmentation, it is important to base the strategies on clear guidelines to follow for the most effective and efficient results.

Clear vision

Before starting segmenting the network straight away, it’s good to start with an evaluation of the current company security status and a picture of what needs to be achieved to improve it. There are several different approaches to achieve network segmentation. Identifying existing gaps and aligning with the most suitable solution requires to answer: 

  • Why do we believe it is a relevant approach to our company?

  • How will our company benefit from implementing network segmentation?

  • What parts need to be revisited and improved? 

  • What impact will it have to company operations and performance?

  • On what scale should segmentation start bringing tangible results?

Revision of existing security framework

There is no need to redo an already well-working security environment. Network segmentation improves security as the main point is to upscale existing processes and policies so it seamlessly brings protection to a higher level — not just demolish working patterns and rebuild a new one but with a similar result simply for the sake of doing so. To bring it to company gain, it is healthy and much advised to audit existing network, what security features are already applied to it and highlight what is working and what needs to be improved on the system.

Evaluate resources and capabilities

Internal audit on an organizational network and internal information resources are also valuable for understanding what is the scope of it. Categorization is a key to identifying what parts can be grouped together and what distinct requirements they need to match to work together under certain security policies. What is the scope of network traffic, can it be fragmented, and what actual impact will it have on network limits performance after re-structurization.  

Segment your own action roadmap

In an attempt of becoming a more agile company, it has to be reflected on the implementation process as well. Dividing the implementation plan of network segmentation into smaller parts allows identifying any needs for improvement or making a slight change in strategy along the way.

Start implementing

Once preparations have been made, it is always good to set a good working culture by agreeing on actions and documentation of the process. There is no actual start of the process once there is no beta version for the project — testing of the implementation of network segmentation is a crucial part of achieving a smooth transition to a safer network environment.

Common Network Segmentation Barriers

Coherent planning and prep work before the actual implementation assist project managers in foreseeing potential problems that might come up within the deployment. However, some of the barriers can be managed before facing them already in the process. 

Poor resource management

For instance, resources are one of the key aspects before that can and should be evaluated as primary challenges. Resources cover staff capabilities — available employees and their skillset — and existing budget — expected and unplanned expenses. 

Not crystalizing the vision

 An extensive roadmap with identified “ifs” supports an uncomplicated transition to network segmentation — distinguishing planning deficiencies and maintenance requirements increase the likelihood of avoiding human error in the early stages.

Lack of “airbags” within the process

Even though the most precise planning sometimes can lead to the unsuccessful installation of new procedures and work frames. To mitigate fallbacks, good time management in advance and leadership support is essential to get back on creating network segmentation policy — which minimizes the cyber attack surface, helps to control local traffic, and allows restriction of third-party access, among many other features.

Overcoming Barriers 

As an overall, in-depth prospecting of network segmentation practices, getting familiar with potential challenges and roadmap efficient solutions is critically substantial for achieving proper final results on traffic control to provide access to separate zones on a network and improve security against a successful breach. 

Once analyzing which security measures already exist and strategic decisions have been made evaluating pros and cons, for efficient deployment, it is best to choose software-defined networking from well-adaptive, easily scalable, and simple to install solutions that are available on the market. They also come in as a great support to fill in security gaps even with limited knowledge, staff, time, and budget resources. 

As long as any incoming red flags are treated with attention and keeping a dynamic mindset is a priority, better access to a company network and endpoint security via network segmentation best practices will be increased in no time.

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