what are network security tools

What Are Network Security Tools?

Network security tools can be either software- or hardware-based and help security teams protect their organisation’s networks, critical infrastructure, and sensitive data from attacks. Various tools can be used depending on the specific function security teams are looking to accomplish. For example, perimeter network security tools work to keep known network-based threats out of the environment proactively. These include tools such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems and network-based antivirus programs. More sophisticated tools like packet analysers and network mappers are usually used to uncover vulnerabilities hackers look to exploit in attacks like DDoS and spear-phishing campaigns.

However, many breaches over the last few years have shown that a prevention-only, perimeter-focused security approach is not enough for an organisation looking to manage its risk. Attacks have evolved to be multifaceted and executed over an extended period, creating weaknesses in traditional point in time prevention. This has now made network detection and response – tools used to detect and prevent malicious network activity caused by non-malware threats – a top priority.

Evolution Of Network Security

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The very definition of the “network” has evolved and continues to change as new technologies, including cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), experience rapid adoption. As this occurs, it requires new and various network detection tools to protect this expanding footprint.

Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS)

Network intrusion detection systems monitor network traffic for suspicious activity. They are specifically used to detect known malware by looking at individual packets or sessions for malware signatures. However, this model does come with its challenges. For example, it’s nearly impossible to detect every variant of malware, and IDS will at times notice the inevitable false positives. IDS systems, therefore, need to be configured on an ongoing basis to discern regular network traffic from actual malicious activity. It takes security teams to tune an IDS to fit its designated task and can be better spent on real threat hunting and other charges.

Sandboxes

Sophisticated attackers have learned to easily bypass IDS tools by making subtle changes to the underlying malware or exploiting 0-day vulnerabilities. This ushered in a new challenge for security teams – they had no way of building a signature without prior knowledge of the exposure. As a result, they started using sandboxes. To identify such threats, sandboxes combine static and dynamic analyses to determine if something is malicious. They do this by testing unverified programs containing malicious code without allowing the software to harm the network. But, as security teams improved their ability to block malware, attackers yet again changed tactics and stopped relying heavily on malware in their attacks.

Network Traffic Analysis: Behavioral Analytics

Attackers are now increasingly focused on the people in the target organisation, stealing their legitimate credentials and then using the tools and technologies already deployed in the environment—living off the land. The security industry responded to these evolved attacks with network traffic analysis (NTA), the process of intercepting, recording and analysing network traffic communication patterns to detect and respond to security threats. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, NTA shifted the approach from identifying the “known bad” to establishing a baseline of what is “normal or good” and then detecting anomalies from that baseline as “potentially bad”.

Network Traffic Analysis for Today’s Landscape

While NTA allows security teams to hunt down and prioritize threats faster, it does run into some challenges. Legacy providers in the network traffic analysis space primarily use unsupervised learning to spot anomalies from “normal baselines”. This approach is noisy since “normal” changes often appear for very legitimate business purposes – e.g., new software deployments, etc. Also, the training required to establish the “normal” baseline takes time – often 30 to 90 days – which can be frustrating when an organization is trying to deploy the technology quickly into its environment. Moreover, the training often needs to be repeated whenever legitimate changes occur in the background. Additionally, these systems often fall victim to weak attribution since a given device might have multiple IP addresses. If the solution alerts based on IP addresses, it will mix behaviours from numerous devices and fail to track and characterise the behaviours of actual devices and users that move across IPs.

How Does Network Security Work?

There are many layers to consider when addressing network security across an organisation. Attacks can happen at any layer in the network security layers model, so your network security hardware, software and policies must be designed to address each area.

Network security typically consists of three different controls: physical, technical and administrative. Here is a brief description of the different types of network security and how each command works.

Physical Network Security

Physical security controls are designed to prevent unauthorised personnel from gaining physical access to network components such as routers, cabling cupboards and so on. Controlled access, such as locks, biometric authentication and other devices, is essential in any organisation.

Technical Network Security

Technical security controls protect data that is stored on the network or which is in transit across, into or out of the network. Protection is twofold; it needs to protect data and systems from unauthorised personnel, and it also needs to protect against malicious activities from employees.

Administrative Network Security

Administrative security controls consist of security policies and processes that control user behaviour, including how users are authenticated, their level of access and also how IT staff members implement changes to the infrastructure.

Network Security Tools And Techniques

Your network faces threats of all shapes and sizes and thus should be prepared to defend, identify and respond to a full range of attacks. But the reality is that the most significant danger to most companies is not fly-by-night threat actors but rather attackers that are well-funded and are targeting specific organisations for specific reasons. For that reason, your network security strategy needs to address the various methods these actors might employ.

Here are 14 different network security tools and techniques designed to help you do just that:

  • Access control

If threat actors can’t access your network, the amount of damage they’ll be able to do will be minimal. But in addition to preventing unauthorized access, be aware that even authorised users can also be potential threats. Access control allows you to increase your network security by limiting user access and resources to only the parts of the network that directly apply to individual users’ responsibilities.

  • Anti-malware software

Malware, in the form of viruses, trojans, worms, keyloggers, spyware, etc., is designed to spread through computer systems and infect networks. Anti-malware tools are network security software designed to identify dangerous programs and prevent them from spreading. Anti-malware and antivirus software may also help resolve malware infections, minimising the damage to the network.

  • Anomaly detection

It can be challenging to identify anomalies in your network without a baseline understanding of how that network should be operating. Network anomaly detection engines (ADE) allow you to analyse your network so that when breaches occur, you’ll be alerted to them quickly enough to be able to respond.

  • Application security

For many attackers, applications are a defensive vulnerability that can be exploited. Application security helps establish security parameters for any applications that may be relevant to your network security.

  • Data loss prevention (DLP)

Often, the weakest link in network security is the human element. DLP technologies and policies help protect staff and other users from misusing and possibly compromising sensitive data or allowing said data out of the network.

  • Email security

As with DLP, email security is focused on shoring up human-related security weaknesses. Via phishing strategies (often very complex and convincing), attackers persuade email recipients to share sensitive information via desktop or mobile device or inadvertently download malware into the targeted network. Email security helps identify dangerous emails and can also block attacks and prevent the sharing of vital data.

  • Endpoint security

The business world is increasingly bringing your device (BYOD) to the point where the distinction between personal and business computing devices is almost nonexistent. Unfortunately, sometimes personal devices become targets when users rely on them to access business networks. Endpoint security adds a layer of defence between remote devices and business networks.

  • Firewalls

Firewalls function much like gates that can be used to secure the borders between your network and the internet. Firewalls are used to manage network traffic, allowing authorised traffic through while blocking access to non-authorized traffic.

  • Intrusion prevention systems

Intrusion prevention systems (also called intrusion detection) constantly scan and analyse network traffic/packets so that different types of attacks can be identified and responded to quickly. These systems often keep a database of known attack methods to be able to recognise threats immediately.

  • Network segmentation

There are many kinds of network traffic, each associated with different security risks. Network segmentation allows you to grant timely access to the correct traffic while restricting traffic from suspicious sources.

  • Security information and event management (SIEM)

Sometimes simply pulling together the right information from so many different tools and resources can be prohibitively tricky — mainly when time is an issue. SIEM tools and software give responders the data they need to act quickly.

  • Virtual private network (VPN)

VPN tools are used to authenticate communication between secure networks and an endpoint device. Remote-access VPNs generally use IPsec or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) for authentication, creating an encrypted line to block other parties from eavesdropping.

  • Web security

Including tools, hardware, policies and more, web security is a blanket term to describe the network security measures businesses take to ensure safe web use when connected to an internal network. This helps prevent web-based threats from using browsers as access points to get into the network.

  • Wireless security

Generally speaking, wireless networks are less secure than traditional networks. Thus, strict wireless security measures are necessary to ensure that threat actors aren’t gaining access.

What Are The Principles Of Network Security?

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There are three principles within the concept of network security—confidentiality, integrity, and availability—which together are sometimes referred to as the “CIA triad.” A network can only be considered secure when it has all three elements in play simultaneously.

Confidentiality works to keep sensitive data protected and sequestered away from where it can be accessed by the average user. This goes hand-in-hand with the principle of availability, which seeks to ensure that data and resources are kept accessible for those who are authorized to access them. Challenges to availability can include DDoS attacks or equipment failure. The principle of integrity seeks to protect information from intentional or accidental changes to keep the data reliable, accurate, and trustworthy.

Every decision made regarding network security should be working to further at least one of these principles. This means that MSPs need to ask if each decision will ensure that data is kept confidential, that its integrity will be protected, and that it will be made more readily available to those with authorisation to access it.

Why are these network security concepts so important? Cyberattacks are on the rise, with a recent report from Positive Technologies showing that government and healthcare organisations are becoming prime targets for hackers. The report also indicates the goal of more than half of cybercrimes is data theft and that financial gain was the motivation behind 42% of cyberattacks against individuals—and behind 30% of cyberattacks against organisations.

As our world becomes increasingly digitized, we rely more and more on the internet and networks to function. This, in turn, requires that the internet and networks provide us with reliable and secure service.

However, as more of our personal and sensitive data is stored in electronic repositories and archives, hackers turn their attention to networked systems. For this reason, MSPs and security support personnel must offer customers robust security systems that protect data from various threat vectors.

What Are Network Security Types Available?

Network security refers to the various countermeasures to protect the network and data stored on or passing through it. Network security works to keep the network safe from cyberattacks, hacking attempts, and employee negligence. There are three components of network security: hardware, software, and cloud services.

Hardware appliances are servers or devices that perform certain security functions within the networking environment. Hardware can be installed out of the path of network traffic or “out-of-line,” but it’s more commonly installed in the way of traffic or “in-line.” The advantage of this is that in-line security appliances can stop data packets that have been flagged as potential threats. In contrast, out-of-line appliances simply monitor traffic and send alerts when they detect something malicious. Network security software, which includes antivirus applications, can be installed on devices and nodes across the network to provide added detection and threat remediation.

Cloud services refer to offloading the infrastructure to a cloud provider. The set-up is generally similar to how network traffic passes through in-line hardware appliances, but incoming network traffic is redirected to the cloud service instead. The cloud service does the work of scanning and blocking potential threats for you before the traffic is allowed onto your network.

Every sound network security system uses different types of network security tools to create a layered defence system. The theory behind this strategy is that if a threat manages to slip past one security countermeasure, the other layers will prevent it from gaining entry to the network. Each layer provides active monitoring, identification, and threat remediation capabilities to keep the network as secure as possible.

Benefits Of Network Security

Network security tools and devices exist to help your organisation protect not only its sensitive information but also its overall performance, reputation and even its ability to stay in business. Continued operational ability and an intact reputation are two critical benefits of adequate network security.

Companies that fall prey to cyberattacks often find themselves crippled from the inside out, unable to deliver services or effectively address customer needs. Similarly, networks play a significant role in internal company processes. When they come under attack, those processes may grind to a halt, further hampering an organisation’s ability to conduct business or even resume standard operations.

But perhaps even more damaging is the detrimental effect that a network breach can have on your business’s reputation.

Given the rising tide of identity theft and other dangers related to the theft of personal information, many customers are already hesitant when it comes to sharing data with businesses. And if a cyberattack should occur, many of these customers are likely to withdraw in favour of more secure alternatives. After all, why take the risk?

The loss or corruption of valuable data, along with significant disruption to customer services and internal processes, topped off with a reputational injury that may persist long after other damages have been repaired — it’s not hard to see what’s at stake when it comes to network security. It’s been suggested that 66 percent of SMBs would have to shut down (either temporarily or permanently) after experiencing a data breach. And even more, significant, more established businesses may be unable to reclaim their former standing.

On the other hand, reliable tools in network security software and hardware, coupled with the right policies and strategies, can help ensure that when cyberattacks occur, their impact will be minimal.

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