What is Network Security – Mastering the Art of Digital Defence
What is network security and how does it adapt to the ever-changing landscape of cyber security? In this blog post, we will delve into network security, which involves measures and practices to safeguard computer networks from unauthorised access, misuse, and disruption. As nothing remains static in the realm of cyber security, we will also discuss the continuous evolution of the threat landscape, encompassing the development of new attack techniques and tools by malicious actors. Additionally, we will explore the role of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) and various solutions and services available to organisations for enhancing network security and defending against emerging threats.
Understanding Network Security: Navigating the Evolving Threat Landscape
The threat landscape has evolved significantly in recent years, with cybercriminals increasingly targeting networks as a means of gaining access to sensitive and valuable data. As decentralised networking is driven by cloud technologies, the attack surface has diversified away from a traditional local area network, increasing risk by now incorporating SD-WAN, edge networking, and even mobile or local Wi-Fi. This offers cyber criminals a much wider attack surface to access organisations.
Common Forms of Networking Attacks
- Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs): One of the most concerning trends in cybersecurity is the use of advanced persistent threats (APTs). APTs are highly sophisticated attacks that can bypass traditional security measures like firewalls and intrusion detection systems. They can quietly infiltrate and remain hidden on a network for extended periods, stealing data and causing harm.
- Network Attack Techniques: Hackers employ a variety of tools and methods to target networks. These attacks are increasingly focused on behaviors, making it crucial to integrate advanced defense and detection solutions directly into the network’s structure.
- Sophisticated Hacker Tools: Hackers have access to sophisticated tools, like network scanners, which help them find vulnerabilities on a network. Additionally, exploit kits automate the process of attacking known weaknesses. Hackers may also use command-and-control (C2) servers to manipulate compromised systems, steal data, and conduct further attacks
What are the Different Types of Network Security?
So, how does network security work? To protect themselves from cyber threats, and to ensure data loss prevention organisations should consider implementing a range of technical network security tools and network security measures, including:
- Implementing strong network access controls and multifactor authentication to limit access to sensitive data and systems and prevent data loss.
- Using encryption to protect data in transit and at rest.
- Leveraging encryption for protecting data and data loss prevention in transit and at rest.
- Implementing firewalls whilst managing devices effectively by ensuring rule sets and configs are updated to meet the landscape.
- Ensuring active use of intrusion detection and intrusion prevention systems to detect and prevent unauthorised access attempts.
- Regularly reviewing and adjusting firewall policies and rule sets to match changing landscapes.
- Restricting access rules to the minimum permissible level as the environment evolves.
- Using endpoint security solutions to protect individual devices.
- Regularly updating software and patching known vulnerabilities, including those for hardware.
In addition to these types of network security tools and technical measures, organisations also need to invest in employee training and awareness programmes to help employees identify and avoid phishing and other social engineering attacks.
An important aspect of network security is hygiene and vulnerability management. In today’s rapidly changing threat landscape. Most organisations have some view of the current estate and the risks posed through gaps and vulnerabilities. However, almost all organisations are under-educated, under-resourced, or under-funded to keep up with the ever-evolving adversaries and the issues they find in technology to exploit. Recognising and promptly dealing with vulnerabilities is of utmost importance. In such tasks, seeking help and support can be incredibly beneficial.
This is highlighted in the multitude of quoted statistics that are regularly reported. For example, those reported by Ponemon Institute, illustrate that data breaches typically take an average of 207 days to be detected, while containing the breach takes an average of 73 days. This means that attackers have plenty of time to move laterally across the network and exfiltrate sensitive data. The important point to note is the shorter the mean time to detection of anyone gaining network access the smaller the damage and remediation efforts.
Implementing Effective Network Security Solutions
How can organisations enhance network security and respond effectively to potential risks and damage? Implementing and actively managing as many of the following technological solutions builds network resilience through defence-in-depth and brings knowledge, intelligence, and positive action to the frontline.
- Network Scanners – SaaS-based tools can help in identifying network vulnerabilities. These scanners operate by detecting open ports and services within a network and cross-referencing the data with a database of known vulnerabilities. Subsequently, they generate a detailed report that can be used to address and resolve any identified vulnerabilities.
- Continual Vulnerability Management – Solutions such as managed cyber security solutions from Telefónica Tech can also help identify and prioritise vulnerabilities and provide a process for remediating them. This kind of managed service goes beyond mere protection by actively identifying and prioritising vulnerabilities within the network. By doing so, it enables organisations to focus their efforts on addressing the most critical weaknesses promptly. The service also provides a structured process for remediation, ensuring that vulnerabilities are effectively mitigated.
- Firewalls and Intrusion Detection/Prevention Systems (IDPS) – Firewalls are a key component of any network security architecture. They work by filtering network traffic based on predefined rules and can be used to block unauthorised access attempts. Intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) are another key component of network security. IDPS solutions can detect and prevent network attacks by analysing incoming, and outgoing traffic, and looking for signs of suspicious activity.
- Endpoint Protection Solutions especially when coupled with managed services can help protect individual devices from malware and other types of attacks. These solutions typically include antivirus and antimalware capabilities, as well as other security features such as host-based intrusion prevention.
- Encryption – Encryption is an important technology for protecting data in transit and at rest. Solutions such as BitLocker by Microsoft can help encrypt data on individual devices. SSL/TLS can be used to encrypt data in transit, and solutions such as VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) can be used to encrypt traffic between remote locations.
- Multifactor Authentication solutions such as Duo Security and RSA SecurID can help limit access control to sensitive data and systems. In the cloud arena, a growing userbase is developing for the likes of Microsoft Authenticator. These solutions work by requiring users to provide two or more forms of authentication, such as a password and a token or biometric information to effectively protect computer networks.
- Employee Training and Awareness Programmes – These are vital components of network security. Solutions can help organisations educate their employees on how to identify and avoid phishing and other social engineering attacks.
- Cloud Security – As cloud solutions and cloud-based services become more popular, organisations need to take steps to secure their cloud environments. Assistance can come in the shape of 3rd party solutions which can help secure cloud-based services by providing visibility into cloud usage and enforcing security policies.
- Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) – SIEM solutions such as IBM Q Radar or Microsoft Sentinel can help organisations detect and respond to security incidents. These solutions work by collecting and analysing security events from across the network and can provide real-time alerts when suspicious activity is detected.
- MDR (Managed Detection & Response) – MDR (Managed Detection and Response) is a proactive approach to network security that helps organisations detect and respond to cyber threats in real time. MDR services combine advanced technologies, threat intelligence, and human expertise to monitor and analyse network activity, identify potential security incidents, and provide actionable insights to help organisations respond to these incidents quickly and effectively.
By implementing these technologies and solutions, organisations can better protect their networks from cyber threats, and make managing their networks easier. These solutions can help organisations identify vulnerabilities, detect, and respond to security incidents, and limit access to sensitive data and systems.
The tools and the services are imperative to ensure any organisation builds a resilient and scalable defence against the onslaught of offensive activity, all of this is less effective if not implemented under a cohesive strategy and that is where NIST CSF and a cyber assessment comes into play.
Cyber Maturity Assessment Benefits
A cyber security review is an evaluation of an organisation’s security measures, policies, procedures, and practices to identify potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses in its systems and infrastructure. The review is conducted by security experts who use various techniques, including vulnerability scanning, penetration testing, and risk assessments, using the NIST Framework as the foundation to identify potential threats and recommend strategies to mitigate them.
The NIST CSF provides a framework for organisations to manage and reduce their cyber security risks. The framework is comprised of five core functions: Identification, Protection, Detection, Response, and Recovery. By following the framework, organisations can identify potential vulnerabilities in their network, including wireless network security, and implement appropriate safeguards to protect their network from cyber threats, quickly detect and respond to potential security incidents, and recover quickly from any incidents that do occur.
For example, the Identify function involves developing an understanding of a network and the risks it faces. By conducting a thorough inventory of network devices, systems, and applications, and identifying potential vulnerabilities and risks, we can prioritise our security efforts and implement appropriate protections. The Protect function involves implementing safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of our network and its data, such as using encryption and implementing security measures such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems.
The Path to Robust Network Security
The cost of cyber security incidents can be significant, both in financial and in reputational terms. To reduce the likelihood of a breach, businesses should implement a vulnerability management programme that includes regular vulnerability scans and assessments, patch management, and a process for remediating vulnerabilities promptly.
The NIST CSF provides a framework for vulnerability management that includes identifying and assessing vulnerabilities, prioritising them based on risk, and developing and implementing plans to remediate them.
In addition to vulnerability management, businesses should also implement a defence-in-depth approach to ensure robust cyber security solutions and network security. This means deploying multiple layers of security controls to protect against diverse types of attacks. For example, deploying a firewall to block unauthorised access, implementing intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) to detect and block network attacks, and deploying endpoint protection to protect against malware and other types of attacks.
It is also important to have a well-trained and educated workforce. In our experience, most data breaches involve some form of human error. This includes mistakes such as misconfiguring security controls, falling for phishing scams, and sharing passwords. Businesses should provide regular security awareness training to employees and ensure that all employees are aware of their roles and responsibilities in protecting the network.
Finally, businesses should have a cyber incident response plan in place to ensure that they are prepared to respond to a cyber attack. This includes having a designated incident response team, conducting regular tabletop exercises to test the plan, and ensuring that the plan is regularly updated to reflect changes in the threat landscape.
The Future of Network Security
Evolution in networking and connectivity has led to the adoption of SD-WAN (Software Defined Wide Area Network), this technology provides significant increases in efficiency, flexibility and cost saving to a business. All of this provides a business with greater agility and application performance. The inverse of the positive benefit is the increased risk through wider connectivity and early adoptive technology which can lead to zero-day vulnerabilities and expand the threat vectors which must be managed. This is one of the reasons there is a shift towards the convergence of networks and security tools to provide an overall solution, such as Telefónica Tech’s flexWAN service.
There has been much talk of AI and Machine Learning becoming central to the future of cyber security processes. However, it is important to note we are at the embryonic stage of the AI revolution, and for this reason, we recommend caution when considering future strategies, as part of an effective security roadmap.
In conclusion, the threat landscape for network security is constantly evolving, and businesses must be proactive in their approach to protecting their networks. By implementing the NIST CSF, vulnerability management programmes, defence-in-depth strategies, employee training, and a cyber incident response plan, businesses can reduce the likelihood of a breach and minimise the impact of an attack.
Businesses must take these steps to protect themselves, as the cost of a data breach can be significant.
At Telefónica Tech, we strongly advocate for security freedom; in other words, liberating organisations from the worries of cyber security so they can do business Our suite of fully managed cyber security services and network security solutions effectively mitigate risks across your business. With our expertise in cyber security, we provide a comprehensive approach to safeguarding your operations. We recognise the delicate balance between security and business goals. By modernising legacy platforms and embracing our integrated security growth platform, which encompasses cloud solutions, advancements in the modern workplace, and robust cyber security measures, we can help your organisation to thrive in the digital age.
Ged Shone, Head of Security, Presales