Network security safeguards digital infrastructure, applications, devices, and systems against online threats. It covers a multitude of hardware and software solutions and processes designed to protect the integrity, confidentiality, and accessibility of computer networks.
Generally speaking, network security can be understood as a subset of a cybersecurity field. As the connected nature of the internet is the main source of security risks, network security is one of the key cybersecurity areas. We've outlined the most important pieces of information regarding network security controls. Here's what you should know.
What is Network security?
Network security takes a strategic defensive approach to restrict external access by ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and availabilityof data, objects, and resources. No matter its size, every company should have set out procedures and tools to protect itself against various network threats.
As the internet facilitates inter-device connectivity, this is also one of the greatest sources of cyber threats. For this reason, network security has to be achieved at three levels:
1. Physical network security
The most rudimentary level of protection aims to prevent unauthorized personnel from obtaining physical access to various network components. This includes servers, laptops, peripherals, routers, and cable connections. It's all about maintaining physical boundaries to make them inaccessible to outsiders.
2. Technical network security
A technical layer of network security focuses on the data's security at rest and in transit. The main goal is to protect the data when transferred within the network. At the same time, the data has to be secured against malicious activities.
3. Administrative network security
Administrative network security is targeted at user behavior, directly concerned with authentication conditions and authorization processes. This layer directly deals with network access control and can be an indicator of various improvements that could be made to the infrastructure.
Traditionally, the most attention when talking about the types of network security was focused on technical and administrative network security layers. Most network threats usually target these specific areas, so they are considered a priority and a greater challenge.
How does network security work?
The basis of network security controls is ensuring that all mentioned network layers are protected against potential threats. Therefore, some types of network security use various detection mechanisms to block malicious connections, while others encrypt used channels, making them inaccessible without credentials.
While passwords used to be a go-to solution, it is more popular to enforce multiple-factor checks nowadays. That way, even if a password becomes compromised, there's still a piece of information that the perpetrator might not have. As current smart devices usually come with built-in biometric readers, relying on biometric confirmations is also becoming popular.
Applications delivery platform
The application delivery platform ensures that applications are delivered reliably, and the load is balanced. Usually, it's applied for network traffic management in data centers and cloud environments.
DDoS targets network devices, flooding them with a barrage of requests. As hardware devices are overloaded with an endless processing stream, they eventually crash, effectively shutting the service down. Depending on the target, this may disrupt network performance for its users.
DDoS mitigation filters the incoming network traffic blocking requests intended to overload the system. It also breaks down the stream of requests into more manageable chunks and distributes them across multiple network devices.
Transport Layer Security
Although many standards exist, many organizations use TLS to secure network traffic between their web servers and browsers. It's a cryptographic protocol that scrambles sent data to be unreadable while in transit. The data is decrypted only after reaching its destination as the process is repeated back and forth.
Firewalls are online network traffic filters that block or allow access to the internal network. While it can be set up in the application layer, it's more common to have them set up on hardware appliances like routers.
One of the first things a hacker might do when infiltrating an organization is to scan what ports open on the company's network that have external exposure. They may exploit them inside your company's perimeter if they find them open.
Therefore, network access control limits user access to internal resources and other company assets. It may rely on various identity access management solutions or other tools to limit incoming connections.
Why is network security important?
A company's servers store confidential customer and internal information, so its security is critical to business operations. Access control has to allow authorized users and deny unauthorized ones, a network security field.
After the COVID-19 pandemic, most offices moved to work from home, increasing our reliance on internal networks and the pressure on their security. Currently, most organizations are pursuing a hybrid work approach, leaving a sizable attack surface for hackers to test.
Successful cyberattacks can ruin a company's reputation and attract hefty fines from the government. For this reason, cybersecurity and network security importance cannot be underestimated in a modern business environment.
Benefits of network security
Implementation of network security measures drastically improves enterprises' cybersecurity status. It reduces the risks of disruption of critical business processes and infrastructure.
This doesn't affect only businesses with online stores. As digitalization has affected most enterprises, protection of internal resources and applications is necessary to advance the business and meet the set targets.
Types of threats that network security prevent
Many cyber attack types also target specific network layers depending on the hackers' goals.
Viruses — malicious program files that inject themselves into the system when opened.
Trojans — viruses disguised as other programs. The user unsuspectingly launches a trojan, injecting itself into the system in the background.
Phishing — a cyberattack in which convincingly-looking emails are sent with the intent to obtain some confidential information from the receiver. Phishing emails trick users into revealing credit card details, personal data, and other sensitive data.
Denial of Service — an attack on the organization's systems when they are flooded with more requests than they can resolve. As the system resolves every single one, it's overloaded, disrupting the service.
IP spoofing — it's stealing a specific IP address to bypass IP blocks. The hacker is using IP-spoofed packets to gain entry into protected networks.
Network security policy
A network security policy outlines rules and procedures for enforcing, managing, maintaining, and monitoring an organization's IT assets and resources. Its function is to detail the processes to ensure asset protection.
A lack of well-defined rules can be a cybersecurity liability and lead to an organization losing important data. Therefore, staff members should be familiarized with network security-defined policy requirements during onboarding and follow its guidelines.
Usually, network security policies govern such areas as cyber hygiene, web-browsing habits, use of internal resources, etc. The intent is to have a common and agreed security standard that should be a reference for day-to-day activities.
The benefits of such documentation are clear steps to follow as a safeguard against digital threats of various complexity. In addition, it outlines used internal assets use cases and creates a basis for enforceable legal action. It's required by many regulatory bodies when pursuing GDPR or ISO 27001 compliance.
Network security summary
Digitalization has severely increased during the coronavirus pandemic, increasing businesses' reliance on networking technologies. Hackers were quick to react, creating havoc in enterprises unprepared to defend against data breaches. The interest in what is network security also grew exponentially as businesses rushed to catch up.
Therefore, network security has become one of the key areas that any business with an online presence should consider. As the internet has been built without cybersecurity, the burden of ensuring security falls on the users. While network security is in an evolutionary stage, it's paramount when limiting various attempts to infiltrate your network.
Virtually any system connected to the internet can be hacked, but network security is an attempt to level the playing field and provide tools for defense. Implementing various effective network security measures provides a much better security status that allows businesses to operate without disruptions.