What is macro-segmentation?
Macro-segmentation is the most familiar way of organizing IT networks. The use of “macro” means that segmentation applies to large sections of the network. This contrasts with “micro” segmentation, which divides networks into far smaller units.
When thinking about what is macro segmentation, we also need to contrast it with traditional flat network perimeters. Old-style perimeters were reliant on single firewalls and network-wide anti-virus or anti-malware tools. Segmented networks go beyond single perimeters, delivering fine-grained protection.
How does macro-segmentation work?
Macro-level network segmentation works via Virtual Local Area Networks (VLAN) and firewalls. VLAN software operates above the physical network infrastructure, dividing the wider network into discrete sections.
Firewalls offer strong edge protection, ensuring traffic cannot pass between segments without authentication. Malicious agents and legitimate users must pass access control measures to travel laterally throughout the network. This creates significant barriers to unauthorized intruders.
A macro segmentation network will often be divided into separate department or branch networks. Software companies are a good example. They might use different network segments for code development and marketing. Separating code makes it easier to guard against malware. Fencing off marketing makes protecting client data more simple.
1. Improved network monitoring
Macro-segmentation provides IT managers with greater visibility about network activity. Without segmentation, security staff can only track traffic at the network edge. Internal monitoring is difficult, if not impossible.
Macro-segmenting network structures allows detailed traffic monitoring. Network professionals can track traffic as it passes across internal barriers. This provides information about network performance. Monitoring also delivers invaluable insights to improve security strategies.
2. Optimized network performance
Segmentation is often used to make networks more efficient. Departments that communicate on a regular basis can connect directly, while segmenting departments filters out irrelevant network traffic flows and diverts them to suitable destinations. Traffic flows where it needs to go, reducing network latency.
3. Network security
Security is one of the most important benefits of adopting macro-segmentation. Strong internal boundaries shrink attack surfaces and prevent malware from spreading between departments. Security teams can contain threats as soon as they detect them. As a result, they can take action to minimize the harm threats cause.
Network segmentation restricts the freedom of movement of hackers gaining access to corporate networks. It also separates network entry points such as workstations from storage devices. That way, data thieves will find it more difficult to discover and extract sensitive data.
Security teams can also identify and isolate network sections affected by cyberattacks. Alerts pinpoint which segments are under attack, while security teams can respond quickly to take remedial action. The result is dramatically increased resistance to cyberattacks.
4. Regulatory compliance
Many sector-specific regulations need robust data protection across corporate networks. For example, HIPAA regulations specify that companies protect patient records from cyber-attackers. PCI-DSS makes similar requirements for credit processors.
Network segmentation is one way to achieve regulatory compliance. Network managers can fence off critical data resources. They can also allow access to legitimate users.
5. Secure IoT and remote working
Many businesses rely on the Internet-of-things. Remote sensors deliver everything from home temperature data to real-time security. But securing IoT devices can be problematic.
Macro-segmentation allows network managers to create separate IoT segments. This limits the scope of attacks mounted via IoT endpoints. Security teams can contain them rapidly and take appropriate action.
The same applies to remote devices. Companies can segment networks to create remote work groups. These sections of the network allow workers access to key resources. But they also guard against poor device security.
Micro-segmentation vs. macro-segmentation
Macro-segmentation is often contrasted with micro-segmentation. The two technologies aim to divide networks and protect data. But the methods they use are very different.
Macro-segmentation divides networks at group or department level. This usually includes large communities of devices and users. Micro-segmentation is more targeted. It operates at the application or device level.
A micro-segmentation approach turns every user or workload on the network into a discrete segment. Users can only pass into parts of the network according to user-specific privileges. Access controls ensure that anything outside their access parameters is off-limits.
Zero Trust vs perimeter defense
Macro-segmentation creates zones of trust based around internal firewalls. In these segments of the network, users are free to operate. Firewall barriers limit lateral movement but users could still access resources and cause damage within network segments.
Microsegmentation is more precise. When users seek access to resources, they must make access requests. Application-level controls then permit or exclude users based on their unique privileges. Granular profiling forms the basis for Zero Trust Network Access policies, applying the principle “never trust, always verify”. When systems query every action, there is much less scope for malicious activity.
SD-WAN vs VLAN
Microsegmentation systems generally use software-defined networking tools (SDN). SDN applies security controls via cloud-based software. PoPs provide security close to applications and resources, not at network edges. There is no need for hardware firewalls or LAN infrastructure to lock down networks.
Macro-segmentation follows the traditional perimeter and core model. Each segment has a predefined edge guarded by a firewall. There is no scope to put in place security protection at the workload level.
Macro-segmentation approaches tend to create fixed boundaries. Technicians must reconfigure firewalls manually when adding new infrastructure or changing security policies. Adapting to emerging threats or business changes like SaaS can be difficult.
Microsegmentation is much more flexible. IT teams can add new SaaS applications to security policies via central dashboards. Security can adapt to remote working or the addition of third-party contractors.
Secure network assets with the right network segmentation approach
Macro-segmentation is a popular option for securing business networks. Segments are simple to design and apply. Strong internal firewalls offer dependable barriers between departments or locations. And network designers can optimize traffic flows, boosting performance.
Other network segmentation approaches are available. Cloud-dependent businesses are turning to microsegmentation which offers greater precision. Optimized for cloud settings, micro-segmentation could work well for many organizations. Find the right network option for your business to secure the resources that matter.