Five reasons why your board should push cybersecurity ‘boundaries’

Issue 6 2023 Security Services & Risk Management, Infrastructure

Tony Walt.

From a technological perspective, micro-segmentation of your IT security environment can be viewed as a way to identify, isolate and curtail the reach of any threat – even once it is in your network.

In a cybersecurity context, micro-segmentation is a framework that can be adopted to divide the data centre environment into discrete secured segments. This allows organisations to take security controls down to the level of application, workload or even device.

What value is there to business leaders in locking the ‘doors’ between discrete operational areas?

Tony Walt, co-founder and Director of cybersecurity software development house Port443, explains that while simplistic, the door analogy highlights the value micro-segmentation brings to the business and its board.

Gartner found that “perimeter-based security technologies, which are deployed at the edge of on-premises and hosted ‘in the cloud’ data centres, enforce policies between sites but cannot segment traffic between workloads or processes.” Micro-segmentation addresses this gap in securing the network internally, or what is referred to as ‘east-west’ traffic.

Walt notes that while micro-segmentation can reinforce traditional network and server-based security, issues of security best practices and regulatory compliance are moved front and centre. In this way, it addresses concerns around how data flows across the organisation and who has rightful access to it.

“We can evaluate our network security setup from the same perspective as our home security systems. Different layers of deterrents – such as electric fences, outdoor beams and door sensors – secure the perimeter of the property.”

“Focusing your information security systems only on traffic coming into the network would be much like pointing all your home security sensors at the front door. While this might help prevent any access via the main entrance, it leaves back doors open, and once someone is inside, all the rooms are vulnerable to intrusion, often without you even knowing about it. You need to lock the doors between rooms to contain intruders and maintain overall security.”

He adds that unlike hardware-based security systems (firewalls, for example), micro-segmentation operates like the security zones in your home. Tightly defined security policies can be applied to different zones. These zones typically include each of the applications used in your business and your data centres, as well as far tighter control of the traffic that runs between these environments.

Walt identifies five key attributes of micro-segmentation that make good business sense.

Simplicity: Having insight into what constitutes critical data, where it resides, and quantifying the risk associated with a potential breach allows for a simplified approach to isolating systems and controlling communications between them. A micro-segmentation philosophy should be preceded by a data discovery process from the start.

Visibility: Segmentation can be implemented into logical business, data centre and application zones. Visibility can then be achieved across the entire network environment while also standardising access policies as much as possible.

Risk reduction: Optimising the architecture through micro-segmentation mitigates the risk of a data breach. Organisations with multiple applications, for example, would be best advised to have discrete segmentation per application. Policies can also be implemented to isolate systems that are subject to government regulations, to improve compliance.

Control: Bringing critical alerts, metrics and system performance statistics into a single view across the organisation is of paramount importance. Available software and technology features can centralise control of various segments, while configuration templates can ease the time and skills burden. “By creating specific security policies for critical applications, for example, granular control can also be achieved,” says Walt.

Convergence: Micro-segmentation creates separate environments where the traffic into, out of and between each environment is controlled. A compromise in one application or zone is contained within that zone and does not lead to further compromise through lateral movement.

Walt comments that the benefits of micro-segmentation include all the benefits of digital convergence. These include better protection for cloud workloads and data, increased access control to various discrete applications, and simplified mandatory compliance with regulations, such as PCI-DSS.

In conclusion, Walt says that anything that can increase overall security efficacy is of tremendous value to the organisation. “As such, micro-segmentation needs to be operationally absorbed into the organisation through processes, people and technology.”

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