What is Network Security?

In information technology, network security involves maintaining the integrity of a computer network and the data it contains. A network is made up of a number and variety of interconnected devices. Network security is important because it protects sensitive data from cyberattacks and ensures that the network is usable and reliable.

Network security management can involve a wide variety of security tools, both hardware and software. Security becomes more important as networks become more complex and businesses depend more on their networks and data to conduct their business. Security enforcement methods should strive to evolve as networks and attack methods evolve, and aim to prevent breaches by mitigating the risks on the network. Regardless of the specific method or corporate security policy, security is generally defined as everyone’s responsibility, as each network user represents a possible vulnerability in that network.

Why is network security important?

Network security is important because it protects valuable data, which, when held by the wrong person, could end up causing a wide range of problems, from inconveniences to disasters. An organization without adequate network security cannot function.

How does network security work?

Network security is enhanced using a combination of hardware and software network tools. The primary goal of network security is to prevent unauthorized access into or between parts of a network. Network segmentation is often used to achieve this. Network segmentation is the division of networks and the designation of resources for those divisions.

A security officer, or a group of them, determines security strategies and policies that ensure network security and help the organization comply with security standards and regulations. It is the responsibility of everyone on the network to comply with these security policies. Every point in the network where an authorized user could access the data is also a point where the data could be compromised, either by a malicious actor or simply by a lack of care on the part of the user. It is also the responsibility of security tool vendors to update tools and software to stay ahead of evolving cyber threats.

Types of network security

Networks contain layers, as represented by the OSI model. Data passes through these layers as it moves between devices. All layers of the stack must be secure for the network to be considered secure.

The table below associates the OSI levels with the corresponding type of network security.

Note that the third layer from the bottom is called “Network”, but network security does not only apply to this layer. Every device in a computer network operates on multiple layers when processing information. Therefore, each layer must be secure for the network to be considered secure. In other words, the word “network” in this definition of network security broadly refers to the enterprise infrastructure as a whole, not just Layer 3.

For example, some people may distinguish between cloud security and network security. Cloud security would include things like application security and container security, which exist outside of Layer 3. However, these cloud functions can still be considered part of the overall enterprise network, and securing them therefore constitutes network security.

Benefits of Network Security

The main advantages of network security are:

  • It guarantees the functionality of the networks on which companies rely.
  • It ensures the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data on a network. It’s called the CIA triad.
  • It ensures compliance with security regulations – the HIPAA security rule, for example. Compliance is also important to the success of a business.
  • This creates a safer market overall when organizations take a proactive approach to security and continually share their strategies with non-proprietary security frameworks such as MITER ATT&CK.
  • It helps businesses establish and maintain customer trust. Security breaches can damage a company’s reputation.

Network security challenges

One of the biggest challenges in network security is the speed at which cyberattacks evolve. As technology evolves, new exploits are developed and new defenses are needed to protect networks from them.

Another challenge is the broad scope of the security policy. As mentioned, security is the responsibility of every network user. It is difficult to build a strategy that allows everyone to live up to this responsibility while simultaneously evolving to meet the latest threats.

More and more companies are adopting a bring your own device (BYOD) method, which means a more distributed and complex network of devices that organizations must protect. Working from home has also become more widespread. This makes wireless security more important because users are more likely to use a public network when accessing corporate networks that include sensitive financial, health, and consumer data.

Cloud providers, managed security services, and security product vendors are also responsible for security. When a company gives a third party access to its data, the third party must also be held accountable for security responsibilities. Here are some examples :

  • A virtual network such as a Software Defined Wide Area Network (SD WAN);
  • A third-party security consultant;
  • Third-party software or security product; Where
  • A cloud service like AWS.

Companies need to be aware of each point at which sensitive data is accessible in their network and adapt their treatment of these points according to the evolution of the technological relations between them.

Another specific challenge is riskware, which is legitimate software with features that can easily be exploited by malicious actors.

A diagram of some of the biggest modern network security challenges

Network security software and tools

The specifics of security policy and the security tools used vary from network to network and change over time. Some commonly used basic network security tools and software include:

  • Firewalls — Firewalls are among the most widely used security tools and can be used at several different layers of the network.
  • Antimalware Software — This is software designed to detect, remove, and/or prevent malware from infecting a computer and, therefore, a network.
  • Intrusion Prevention System — This is a system designed to prevent intrusions. It actively suppresses unauthorized attempts to access a network.
  • Intrusion Detection System — This system detects unauthorized access attempts and flags them as potentially dangerous, but does not remove them itself. This system or intrusion prevention systems are often used in combination with firewalls.
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) — This is a program that uses tunneling protocols to encrypt information and send it over a less secure public network.
  • Cloud Security Tools — Cloud providers often provide security tools that allow organizations to shift some of their security burden to the provider. The cloud provider manages the security of its global infrastructure and offers tools allowing the user to protect their instances within the global cloud infrastructure. For example, AWS provides Application Security Groups, which are virtual firewalls that protect AWS instances and relational database services, among other things.

Network Security Jobs and Certifications

Some jobs related to network security include:

  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) – This is one of the highest paying positions in the network security employment landscape. CISOs are responsible for developing and implementing an information security program.
  • Penetration tester – Pen testers are hired to break into a corporate network to expose vulnerabilities. This can be automated or done manually by internal employees or third-party penetration testing as a service providers.
  • Security Engineer – These employees focus on quality control within the IT infrastructure.
  • Security Architect — These employees plan, analyze, design, and test the company’s IT infrastructure.
  • Security Analyst – These employees analyze and plan the security strategy, as well as perform security audits.

Certifications for network security careers include:

Kevin M. Risinger