People 'n' Issues

Back to segmented networks?

August 2nd, 2016
Organisations need to move back to the days of segmented networks, to gain full visibility of network traffic and combat growing threats inside their networks, says JOHN WARD, Systems Engineer, Africa at Fortinet.
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The risks inside a corporate network are usually far greater than organisations think. In fact, there may be more threats within an organisation’s perimeter defences than outside of them.

Mobile devices used in unsecured environments may bring malware directly into the core networks. Cybercriminals who gain access to the network have free access to everything once they bypass the perimeter firewall. Internet of Things devices and cloud connected printers connected to the network are typically left unsecured and unmanaged.

In addition, a poorly managed network that offers little or no visibility typically performs badly, impacting productivity and efficiency and the overall cost of doing business. This too, should be considered a serious business and productivity risk.

Information security professionals and risk managers are well aware that an ‘insider threat’ exists, but typically don’t have the resources to effectively mitigate the risk, and often they do not realise how network configuration impacts their threat exposure. Most organisations put in bare minimum perimeter firewalls to meet auditor requirements, and run flat layer 2 networks for cost control and ease of administration.

In an environment fraught with increasingly advanced threats, this architecture can prove to be a costly mistake. Consider for one minute that any users’ pc could unknowingly be directly tethered to the internet via their phone yet still be connected to the internal LAN.

In many consultations with potential clients, we have discovered perimeter firewalls up to ten years old and long out of their support contracts, still in place as the organisation’s only network defence. When we put FortiGate behind these incumbent firewalls into the core to analyse the state of the network, we almost always turn up issues the organisation knew nothing about.

There may be broadcast storms impacting users across the network; there may be old applications still running that IT management thought were long since phased out; there are frequently configuration issues and legacy systems impacting the overall network performance and increasing its risk profile.   At least 60% of the time, when organisations get their first true view of network traffic, they are unpleasantly surprised.

To address the threats inside the network and optimise network performance, organisations need to move away from the flat layer and back to the segmented network model of the past. Only this time, they need to lock down the segmented network without compromising performance, for example by installing Fortinet’s FortiASIC powered internal segmentation firewalls.

Deployed transparently in L2 mode or bump in wire and ASIC driven wire speed capable, these do not require extensive network overhauls. They simply plug into the network to deliver visibility into network traffic as well as application control, web filtering, advanced threat protection, mobile security and antivirus.

However, it is crucial that these internal segmentation firewalls do not cause bottlenecks that slow down the overall performance of the network. An effective internal segmentation firewall should support wire-speed internal traffic with multi-tens-gigabit performance, sitting at strategic choke points of the internal network. There, it provides policy-driven segmentation, instant visibility of traffic in and out of the network asset and real time protection of the asset, serving as an important component of the overall security suite. If required, these firewalls can even provide a secure ring around the legacy equipment to assure security and control.

With segmentation and full visibility, organisations are able to significantly improve governance and risk management, monitor and manage threats in real time, and optimise network performance by discovering where to clean up the network, or reconfigure and remove redundant systems.

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