Microsegmentation is a network security approach that allows engineers to logically partition data centers into discrete security segments, down to each task level, and apply security policies to each segment separately. Rather than establishing numerous physical firewalls, microsegmentation allows IT to define flexible security policies deep within a data center.
With microsegmentation, you can secure every virtual instance or virtual machine (VM), bare metal server, or container in a corporate network using policy-based, application-level security controls. This can significantly increase your business’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 application to a server, between servers, or across the cloud network. Therefore, microsegmentation is the best way to intelligently organize workloads based on how they interact within the data center.
Additionally, microsegmentation is stronger and more reliable for network security because it does not rely on dynamically changing networks or the business or technical constraints placed on them. It is a crucial component of the Trustless Network Access (ZTNA) paradigm, which has been shown to simplify access control.
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.
Learn more about eSecurity Planet: Microsegmentation: The Next Evolution of 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 is 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 attempts to cross the boundary between zones. This gives a business better visibility into the network and the ability to spot and prevent an attacker’s lateral movement attempts.
A company’s security and regulatory compliance plans should include network segmentation. An organization cannot successfully enforce access rules or prevent an attacker’s movement if it is unable to inspect traffic within its network.
With network segmentation, a network security engineer can:
- Create subnets within the overall network
- Protect virtual machines, containers, cloud and data centers
- Control north-south network traffic
- Deploy policies at the segment and network level
- Apply policies on virtual machines and hosts
Rather than broad zones, microsegmentation gives each device or even each application its own segment within the network and examines all communications between applications or devices for possible malicious activity.
To implement microsegmentation, security engineers can use software-defined networking (SDN) to route traffic through an inspection point like an NGFW, thanks to the virtualization of the network infrastructure by SDN. This NGFW can detect potential lateral movements of attackers and prevent unauthorized access to corporate resources.
Microsegmentation is crucial for an organization to successfully implement a zero-trust security posture. The ability to deny unauthorized access to a device or application is important to zero trust, which inspects all traffic to that resource, no matter where it comes from.
Microsegmentation provides security, performance, and understanding of applications in the network infrastructure. Using this technology, a security engineer can:
- Get detailed visibility into workloads
- Logically divide data center components into discrete security segments down to individual application levels
- Centralized management to reduce security management overhead for individual hosts
- Apply granular policies on subnets and VLANs
- Control east-west traffic
- Apply policies up to 7 layers of the OSI model
Benefits of Microsegmentation
Organizations can benefit from microsegmentation in several ways, including improved operational proficiency, better network visibility and monitoring, advanced application understanding, limited lateral movement, and centralized policy management.
Improved operational proficiency
You can implement microsegmentation software to remove the requirement for individual firewalls and ACLs (access control lists). By moving to SDN, network segmentation and access control policies are easier to define, monitor and manage effectively. This helps achieve resilience and improve operational efficiency.
Improved network traffic visibility and monitoring
Microsegmentation provides better network visibility. Data flows between workloads are fully visible and under your control, which can improve the detection and resolution of cybersecurity incidents.
By applying microsegmentation to a particular device or group of devices based on the intended users, you can gain precise visibility into the activity taking place within each component that has been segmented. You can also configure your alert management systems segment by segment so that you can monitor isolated segments.
Advanced understanding of applications
Networking and security teams can monitor all data flows between their different workloads using microsegmentation, making it easier to understand how different workloads interact with each other and detect flaws that could be signs of vulnerabilities.
Limited lateral movement
Microsegmentation is an effective option if you want to separate workloads from different applications and achieve true application segmentation.
By doing so, you can prevent threats from moving laterally and control them inside the isolated segment that contains the application the threat was meant to affect. This reduces the organization’s vulnerability to attacks and the risk of a data breach.
Centralized policy management
Software-defined networking is often practiced as a solitary, centralized solution that simplifies security policy management by network and security professionals. If necessary, administrators can easily modify policies to adapt to changing network demands and evolving cyber threats.
The policy lifecycle is the most challenging aspect of implementing an effective microsegmentation policy that adapts to support changes to your applications and business. Using microsegmentation, you can start at the macro level and iteratively refine through policy automation.
Microsegmentation Software Providers
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 break through perimeter defenses.
Major vendors in the microsegmentation software market include Illumio, Algoblu, Guardicore, ShiledX and others.
Compare these solutions and others on eSecurity Planet: The best microsegmentation software
Who should use microsegmentation?
Microsegmentation is a tool that businesses can use in different ways, but not every business environment is suitable. While some networks may benefit from segmentation, others may not, depending on the situation.
Generally speaking, businesses that rely heavily on cloud resources or centralized data centers and have a large number of remote work 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 recommended. For example, healthcare companies subject to HIPAA regulations could separate consumer information from the marketing, accounts, and research divisions.
In a broader sense, any business 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 people and want full visibility into user activities, SDN-based segmentation is viable.
Microsegmentation can be expensive to implement in large enterprises, especially when dealing with heavy network traffic with low sensitivity. Therefore, small businesses that lack the resources to engage in sophisticated software segmentation can achieve effective perimeter protection using traditional network segmentation techniques.
Read next: Using Zero Trust Security to Protect Applications and Databases