What Is Micro-Segmentation In Networking

Security breaches are rising at what most analysts and experts say is an alarming rate, with ransomware being the most common method of attack. Behind ransomware are unauthorized network access and access resulting from unsecured databases and serves. 

A 2022 report found that third-party breaches led to the leak of around 1.5 billion users’ personally identifiable information last year. 

What this shows IT admins is that the traditional segmentation methods aren’t effective at mitigating threats anymore. You can check the mock survey for this.

Organizations are going to have to move toward Zero Trust security models for adequate protection, and within those is the need for what’s called micro-segmentation. In the environment of the cloud, hybrid work, and data centers that we see currently, micro-segmentation and Zero Trust provide the needed versatility to combat attempted breaches. 

The Basics of Micro-segmentation

Micro-segmentation is the creation of what is considered secure zones in data center and cloud environments. The goal is to isolate workloads from each other, individually securing them. Firewall policies can limit east-west traffic between workloads when there’s the implementation of a Zero Trust approach to security. 

This reduces lateral movement of threats, contains breaches, improves regulatory compliance, and reduces attack surfaces. 

You’ll also hear micro-segmentation referred to as application segmentation or east-west segmentation in reference to multi-cloud data centers. 

With the division of micro-segmentation, there’s the division of the environment or data center into segments where there are permission checks that are located within the actual network. 

Network segmentation, by contrast, refers to north-south traffic, or the traffic that’s coming into and out of a cloud environment or data center. 

To further compare micro-segmentation and network segmentation, you can consider the implementation modes of each and the policy enforcement. 

In micro-segmentation, software-defined networking or SND defines the security and manages it across workloads.

For network segmentation, it’s virtual local area networks (VLANs) and access control lists, while firewall rules are used for implementing policies. 

What Are the Benefits?

Some of the potential benefits of micro-segmentation that can encourage organizations to implement it within their larger security strategies include:

  • Cloud workload protection: The majority of organizations have at least one application in the cloud, and most of those are using a multi-cloud infrastructure. Micro-segmentation helps to reduce attack surfaces and provides granular visibility into how workloads are connecting to one another. Cloud workload protection can also provide protection to workloads and applications that are across data centers. If suspicious activities occur, they can be caught quickly and acted on in time. There is no longer adequacy for on-premise security, and micro-segmentation speaks to this reality. 
  • Mitigation of breaches: Since there is more visibility and control over workload data flow, as briefly mentioned, it becomes easier to identify and deal with threats. The lateral movement prevents an attacker from being able to move within the network, even after gaining access. 
  • Compliance: Micro-segmentation is becoming an important part of remaining compliant in a regulatory sense. Segmenting data that are guided by regulations like HIPAA, PCI, and GDPR lets organizations set strict controls around that particular data. 
  • Simplicity: With micro-segmentation, it’s easier to create versatile security policies that outline user access to databases and applications, with a reduction in the need for manual configuration. 

Micro-segmentation Implementation

General steps to the implementation of micro-segmentation can include:

  • First, set your goals. If your goals aren’t clear, your micro-segmentation strategy isn’t going to be as effective as it otherwise could be. Think about the needs of your organization and how you’re classifying your end-users and your IT resources. 
  • From there, segment your workloads. You’ll have to audit your applications and workloads, services, and communication that’s happening internally and externally. You can then determine the users who will require access. Find this information in IP lists, network devices, and traffic and event logs. You can group applications based on similar user access needs or purposes, and then you can identify differences between the groups that would allow you to logically separate them from each other. 
  • Least privilege will be an important part of your micro-segmentation strategy and also your Zero Trust framework in general. You need a full picture of every application and its individual services. From there, you’ll get specific about the users who should have access to what designations. A Zero Trust model relies on the assignment of the least amount of privileges to get the job done for every user. 
  • As you set a timeline for implementation, you should categorize the applications that have the most importance to your granular security policies first. Then, you can look at the less risky ones later. 
  • Be gradual with implementation. You don’t need to try and achieve perfection right way. Instead, you want to target your critical areas first and approach everything strategically, methodically, and comprehensively. 

There are going to be challenges in implementation. While the benefits include the fact that you can tailor your security settings to the types of traffic and simultaneously improve operational efficiency, it’s a big task. It’s going to be a huge undertaking to try and consolidate your firewall rules from over the years and your access control lists and then turn them into enforceable policies in a distributed environment. 

You may not even have the visibility to map the connections. 

You have to know what to segment, and that’s often described as the single biggest challenge of micro-segmentation implementation. Many companies don’t know what devices are on their network, and if they do, they aren’t confident in that knowledge. 

If you have no idea of the devices, you’re going to subsequently have no way of knowing the segments you need to create. 

For an evolution toward Zero Trust, you’ll also have to get a full understanding of your environment and the assets you need to protect. Your micro-segmentation approach can actually help you build out your Zero Trust security plan as well, so while it’s tough to get started and gather the information, it’s going to continue to be helpful. 

You can use the data you gather during micro-segmentation as the foundation of the rest of your Zero Trust program. 

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