A strong network infrastructure security is essential for the safety of business operations and data resources. This is particularly important considering that data breaches are rising, with about 52 million occurring in the second quarter of 2022 alone. Organizations must constantly enhance their network security to safeguard against such breaches that might be costly and damaging to the reputation you have taken so long to build.
Let's explore network infrastructure and what it takes to secure it in today’s dynamic tech environment.
What is network infrastructure security?
To best understand what network infrastructure security is, it’s best to start by understanding what a network infrastructure is. A network infrastructure refers to the components of a network, such as routers, switches, cables, and wireless access points. It also includes the software that controls the network, as well as the procedures and policies that determine how the network is used. In order to function properly, a network infrastructure must be designed and implemented in a way that takes into account the specific needs of the users and the environment in which it will be used. For example, a network infrastructure for a small business can be very different from one for a large enterprise. When designing a network infrastructure, it is important to consider factors such as scalability, availability, security, and performance.
So then, what is network infrastructure security? Network infrastructure security refers to the measures taken to protect the components of a network from damage. It involves taking appropriate measures to prevent unauthorized access, theft, modification, and deletion of data. Network infrastructure security uses a holistic approach that combines ongoing security processes and best practices to protect a business’ IT environment.
There are a variety of threats to network infrastructure, including natural disasters, hardware failures, software vulnerabilities, and malicious attacks. To counter these threats, organizations must implement comprehensive infrastructure security measures, including physical security (such as locked doors and ceilings), logical security (such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems), and policy enforcement (such as user authentication and access control).
Functions of network infrastructure security
A network infrastructure security performs key functions, including:
1. Network segmentation and segregation
Segmenting and segregating networks is an effective technique for deterring potential intruders. Cybercriminals can exploit several parts of a network, and network infrastructure security focuses on the entire infrastructure layout. Segmenting and segregating networks create boundaries that control traffic.
The IT team can restrict traffic to a specific segment or shut it down in case of an attack. They can use hardware, such as routers, to separate networks and create segments. Virtual separation is another alternative that doesn’t require extra hardware.
2. Limiting lateral communications
Network infrastructure security is essential in limiting unnecessary peer-to-peer communication within a network. Attackers can take advantage of unfiltered communication to invade a computer system or network. This communication can also allow hackers to move from one computer to another within a network. Limiting lateral communication reduces potential avenues that intruders can use to target a network or embed backdoors.
3. Strengthening network devices
One of the core functions of network infrastructure security is to harden network devices. It ensures that the entire infrastructure adheres to the best practices and industry standards regarding cyber security. These practices include using strong passwords, network encryption, backing up configurations, securing access, testing security settings, protecting routers, and restricting physical access.
Securing access to network devices also involves granting limited administrative rights. Only a few trusted users should have access to sensitive network resources. Multi-factor authentication, for example, is vital in managing administrative credentials and ensuring that only authentic users have privileged access.
5. Validating hardware and software integrity
Illegitimate products threaten network security and let hackers in. Cybercriminals load such products with malicious software and introduce it into their target network. IT teams should perform regular integrity assessments on their hardware and software. Furthermore, network infrastructure security involves testing all new hardware and software before introducing it into a network.
6 .Out-of-band network management
Out-of-band (OoB) network management creates secure dedicated communication paths that separate management from user traffic. This strengthens network security and allows remote control of network infrastructure.
The availability of OoB management, even when the network is down, is another key benefit. The IT team can use it to remotely reboot IT assets that have crashed and thus provide a 24/7 uptime for the network. It offers remote access to servers, firewalls, switches, routers, and other critical IT assets.
Common types of network infrastructure security
There are several types of network infrastructure security that an organization can use to strengthen its network defense. They include:
1. Access control lists
An ACL is a list of permissions that specify who is allowed to access what resources on a network. For example, an ACL can be used to allow only certain users to access sensitive data or to restrict access to certain websites. Access control consolidates user authentication, network policy enforcement, and endpoint security.
Effective access control covers the following areas:
- Access control principles
- Who approves access requests
- Who’s responsible for access control implementation
- Access documentation
- Periodic audits
According to a survey by Nexkey, 44 percent of the respondents believe access control is vital.
A firewall is a hardware or software device that filters traffic coming into and out of a network. It can be used to block certain types of traffic, such as unwanted advertising or malware, or to allow only specific types of traffic, such as from a trusted source.
Related reading: Leading firewalls for small businesses
Encryption is the transformation of readable data into an unreadable format. This makes it difficult for unauthorized individuals to access the data, as they would need the encryption key to decrypt it.
4. Intrusion detection and prevention systems
An IDPS is a system that monitors network traffic for signs of intrusion or malware activity. If an IDPS detects suspicious activity, it can take action to prevent or mitigate the threat, such as blocking the offending traffic or alerting the security team.
5. Application security
Application security involves using techniques, hardware, and software and adopting the best practices to safeguard computer applications from security threats. Application security has become a key concern across all aspects of the app development process. The development and use of apps over networks is rising, and application security must address all varieties of threats.
Application security should deter malicious individuals from accessing applications in the network. It also includes monitoring and managing app vulnerabilities. Some vulnerabilities are non-critical, but attackers can combine and use them in attack chains.
6. Virtual private networks (VPNs)
VPNs provide secure, encrypted connections between endpoints. The two endpoints create a shared encryption key that encrypts all the traffic passing through the VPN link. This provides secure connectivity, making it difficult for hackers to steal data while in transit. If they access the data, it might not be useful because they will need to decrypt it first. You might want to check out some of the most efficient VPN solutions for businesses
VPNs also provide message integrity by using message authentication codes (MACs) that help to detect errors and modifications in the transmitted data. This makes it possible to detect intentional and unintentional interference.
Related reading: VPN concentrators
7. Wireless security
Wireless security protects wireless networks from malicious and unauthorized access. If a wireless network is compromised, the intruder will not view the content in traffic.
Wireless security may also include wireless intrusion detection, alerting the network administrator of a security breach. Wireless Protected Access (WAP) and Wired Equivalent Policy (WEP) are the two common standards for wireless security.
8. Behavioral analytics
Behavioral analysis uses artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data to detect any network activity that deviates from ordinary activities. It helps detect malicious attacks since an attack behaves differently from regular daily network activity.
Hackers develop techniques, tactics, and procedures that allow them to enter vulnerable environments undetected. Cybersecurity experts use behavioral-based tools to determine normal network behavior and detect deviations. Security teams can then zero in on any abnormal behavior and identify intruders early enough.
Layers of network infrastructure security
Though not often a must, you might want to break down your infrastructure security into a couple of layers so that it becomes much easier to manage. These are the common levels that most companies use:
- Physical layer: At the physical level, you're concerned with things like locked doors and security cameras. You want to make sure that unauthorized personnel can't access your network, physically. One way to do this is by restricting access to certain areas of the premises. For example, you might have a locked room where the servers are kept, and only authorized personnel are allowed in that area. You can also beef up security by installing security cameras and alarm systems. These systems will notify you if someone attempts to access your network without authorization.
- Network layer: The network layer is responsible for ensuring that data packets are properly routed and that traffic flows are controlled. Take steps to secure the network traffic from eavesdropping and tampering.
- Application and data layer: The application layer is where all the applications used within the network rest. It's important to secure this layer by implementing measures such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems. The data layer is where sensitive data is stored and it's crucial to protect this data from unauthorized access, destruction, or alteration. Data encryption is important for protecting data at rest or in transit as it makes it much more difficult for unauthorized users to gain access..
Common challenges with network infrastructure security implementation
Even with the best network infrastructure security measures in place, there are certain challenges that companies must always look out for. Here are some of the most common challenges when it comes to implementing network infrastructure security:
- Balancing security with usability: Some businesses might find it challenging to strike a balance between making the network infrastructure secure and ensuring that it’s still easy to use. Too much security can make it difficult for legitimate users to access information or perform tasks, while too little security can leave the network vulnerable to attack.
- Securing remote access: If your network infrastructure includes remote access capabilities, you might find it a little demanding to ensure that this access is properly secured. Any slip up could leave the network vulnerable to attackers pretending to be part of the authorized remote users.
- Lack of visibility: Without visibility into the network, it is difficult to know where potential vulnerabilities exist. This can make it difficult to prioritize security efforts and make informed decisions about where to allocate resources.
- Resource constraints: Many organizations, especially small-to-medium businesses, may not have the resources necessary to properly secure their networks. This includes both financial resources and human resources. As a result, they may be forced to make compromises in their security efforts.
- Legacy systems: Older systems may not be designed with security in mind and may not be compatible with newer security measures. This can make it difficult to implement an effective security strategy across the entire organization.
- Changing threats: The landscape of cyber threats is constantly evolving with new cyber trends, making it a challenge to keep up with the latest threats and ensure that networks are adequately protected. This requires organizations to be nimble and adapt their security strategies on an ongoing basis.
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the need for robust network security becomes more apparent. There are a variety of ways to strengthen network infrastructure security, and the best approach is usually to implement multiple measures. For example, a firewall can help to block external threats, while data encryption can protect sensitive information from being accessed by unauthorized individuals. A comprehensive strategy will always offer the best results.
Remember to regularly review your needs and vulnerabilities, so you can be sure that your security measures are always up to date. Don't wait until it's too late to invest in network infrastructure security — make it a priority for your organization today. Luckily there are many experienced cyber security companies that can help you get started. Cyber security companies can also help you develop a security plan that is tailored to your specific needs and vulnerabilities.