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Elevate Your Security with 8 Network Segmentation Best Practices

An image of network segmentation best practices for enhanced security

There are many moving parts to a zero trust strategy, and network segmentation cybersecurity is an important piece of the puzzle. Network segmentation involves dividing a network into smaller, isolated segments to minimize the potential damage caused by unauthorized access or attacks. 

In this article, we will explore the role of network segmentation in security, the key principles behind it, and eight network segmentation best practices to implement it effectively.

The Role of Network Segmentation in Security

Network segmentation plays a vital role in enhancing security by limiting the lateral movement of bad actors within your network. Splitting a network into smaller, secure subnetworks helps contain breaches or attacks within one area, stopping them from spreading throughout the whole network.

Think about it like a mansion that has dozens of rooms, which you divide into sections (subnetworks), with locks on each section’s doors (implementing security controls). If an intruder enters one section, they’re confined to that area alone. This prevents them from accessing the entire mansion, much like how segmenting a network restricts a breach to just one subnetwork, protecting the rest of your network.

Network segmentation cybersecurity is generally divided into two main types: physical and logical segmentation. 

  • Physical segmentation entails using tangible hardware, such as switches and routers, to separate networks. It’s similar to constructing physical barriers within a building.
  • Logical segmentation, on the other hand, involves dividing networks through software tools or configurations, such as virtual local area networks (VLANs). This method offers more flexibility and can be customized to meet your specific needs.

Key principles of network segmentation

To effectively implement network segmentation best practices, you need to understand the key principles that underpin its effectiveness.

  • Principle of least privilege: Each segment should only have access to the resources and services necessary for its intended purpose, which limits the potential attack surface.
  • Secure boundaries: Boundaries between segments should be well-defined and protected to prevent unauthorized access. Strong access controls, such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems, should be implemented to monitor and control traffic flow between segments.
  • Monitoring and logging: Comprehensive monitoring and logging mechanisms should be in place to detect and track any suspicious activity within each segment. This allows you to identify potential security incidents promptly and take appropriate action to mitigate them.

8 network segmentation best practices

Implementing network segmentation requires careful planning and execution. Here are eight best practices as well as some useful technologies to consider when completing your network segmentation design and strategy.

1. Identify critical assets

Begin by identifying the critical assets within your organization. These could include sensitive data, intellectual property or systems that are crucial for your operations. Understanding the value and importance of these assets will help you determine the level of segmentation required to protect them and ensure that the most sensitive and crucial areas are secured first. This approach not only safeguards your key assets but also optimizes resource allocation towards protecting high-priority areas.

2. Conduct a risk assessment

Performing a thorough risk assessment is crucial for identifying potential vulnerabilities and external threats to the network. This step is instrumental in understanding your security landscape, identifying gaps in your defenses and evaluating how much time and effort you will require to improve your security posture. It will also help you concentrate your efforts on the areas where you are weakest, without overlooking less obvious points of vulnerability.

3. Define network segmentation policy

Creating a clear, concise network segmentation policy and guidelines is vital for the success of your network segmentation design. These policies should:

  • Outline the criteria for segmenting the network, whether by department, function or data sensitivity.
  • Align with your overall security objectives, ensuring a unified and strategic approach to network security.
  • Facilitate a structured implementation that meets specific goals and objectives at specific points in time.

4. Use VLANs and subnets

Employ VLANs and subnets to logically separate network parts. VLANs can prioritize certain types of traffic over others, ensuring optimal performance for critical applications. You can assign specific VLANs or subnets to different segments to control access and communication between groups. This logical separation is crucial for minimizing the risk of unauthorized access and ensuring efficient network operation.

5. Implement Access Control Lists (ACLs)

Access Control Lists (ACLs) are essential for managing and controlling traffic flow between network segments. They allow your administrators to specify rules that govern the types of traffic allowed or denied, ensuring that only authorized communications take place between segments. 

Regularly review and update ACLs to keep them effective and ensure you adapt to any changes in network or security requirements. This continuous adjustment is key to preserving a secure and functional network environment.

6. Deploy firewalls

Firewalls act as gatekeepers to granularly monitor and control traffic between network segments, uncovering suspicious patterns and offering an additional layer of security. Implementing both perimeter and internal firewalls with detailed security policies and protocol or application-based segmentation creates a multi-layered security approach.

Firewalls can also be used to create demilitarized zones, isolating public-facing servers from the internal network. This significantly enhances your defense mechanisms against both external and internal threats. 

7. Consider micro-segmentation

Micro-segmentation is a cybersecurity strategy that goes beyond traditional network segmentation design to create highly specific, secure zones within data centers and cloud environments. By breaking down network segments into smaller, more granular sub-segments—or even segmenting by individual workloads—micro-segmentation gives you more precise control over traffic and more tailored security policies. 

It also allows you to define security policies based on the specific needs of each workload, regardless of its location in the cloud or on-premises. This flexibility is crucial for hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

8. Regularly test and update

Network segmentation is not a one-time effort but a continuous process that demands regular monitoring, testing and updating to remain effective. Conduct periodic penetration testing and vulnerability assessments to identify weaknesses or gaps in your segmentation strategy and adjust accordingly. 

In addition, keep your segmentation policies and controls current so you can effectively counter evolving threats and accommodate changes in your network infrastructure. This ongoing diligence ensures the long-term effectiveness and resilience of your network segmentation strategy.

Advantages of implementing network segmentation best practices

Network segmentation stands as a cornerstone strategy in modern cybersecurity, offering a multi-faceted approach to protecting your organization’s digital assets. By implementing network segmentation best practices, you can enjoy several advantages in terms of security, compliance and operational efficiency.

  • Enhanced security: Network segmentation significantly reduces the risk of lateral movement by containing threats within specific segments. This containment prevents attackers from moving freely across your network, minimizing the potential damage of a security incident.
  • Improved compliance: Network segmentation best practices help your organization comply with various regulatory standards by isolating sensitive data and systems. It simplifies the process of demonstrating compliance and reduces the scope of audits and assessments.
  • Operational resilience: In the event of a security incident, network segmentation allows you to isolate and contain the impact, minimizing downtime and disruption to critical operations. This resilience ensures that even if one segment is compromised, the rest of your network remains functional.

Final thoughts

Network segmentation best practices are a critical security measure that your organization must implement to protect your sensitive information. By following the key principles and best practices outlined in this article, you can elevate your security posture and minimize the potential impact of security incidents.

Looking for support in optimizing, managing and monitoring network security? NinjaOne’s monitoring and alerting capabilities let you proactively address any anomalies, security breaches or performance issues through a user-friendly interface. 

Schedule a demo or start your 14-day trial here.

Next Steps

The fundamentals of device security are critical to your overall security posture. NinjaOne makes it easy to patch, harden, secure, and backup all their devices centrally, remotely, and at scale.

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