In sprawling enterprise networks, you’ll find a variety of software, hardware, users, and tools, and almost as many points of access that can be breached. Network security is the blanket term for the steps your network administrators take to protect all of these features of your network, both from external and internal threats.
To help network administrators that need to build and enforce security measures, several software companies offer network security software and tools to automate and optimize this process. Read on to learn more about your network security options and some of the top network security software providers in the field.
Readers also read: Top Zero Trust Networking Solutions for 2021
Top Network Security Solutions
- A Glossary of Network Security Approaches
- Top Software Companies and Products
- How to Choose Network Security Software
To help you identify what features you’ll need to look for in your unique network security search, take a look at this brief summary of different network security approaches on the market:
- DNS Security: a type of security that focuses on securing the actions of network users when they visit domains/IP addresses. Content filtering, malware and ad blocking, and typo correction are all examples of this type of security.
- Firewalls: monitoring tools that watch incoming and outgoing traffic on the enterprise network and filter out unwanted traffic from outside networks. Firewalls can come in hardware, software, and cloud formats.
- Zero Trust: this software accompanies zero trust policies, enforcing more authentication requirements and stopping lateral movement across the network when a breach does occur.
- Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDPS): these tools alert your network administrators when possible issues or apparent attacks are affecting the network. IDPS tools check for malware and socially engineered attacks.
- Network Access Control (NAC): these tools manage access to the network via methods like policy lifecycle management, security posture checks, and guest networking access management.
- Antivirus/Antimalware: these tools enforce antivirus update policies, but they also take steps to prevent, look for, and remove viruses and malware from the network.
- Network Detection and Response (NDR): these tools monitor east-west traffic on the network to identify anomalies in network activity that could pose a threat.
- Extended Detection and Response (XDR): moving beyond endpoint detection and response (EDR), XDR detects and responds to threats across endpoints, cloud computing, email, and other possible points of entry.
- Network Security Policy Management (NSPM): these tools help network administrators to manage compliance policies via network workflow documentation.
- Software-Defined Perimeter: this approach to perimeter security focuses on software instead of hardware, further obscuring hardware like servers to anyone outside of the network.
- Virtual Private Network (VPN): a VPN provides a virtual access point for users to connect securely to a network server from anywhere. The two primary options are IPSec and SSL.
- Network Traffic Analysis: this type of tool helps you to spot protocols and applications that run on your network and to track metrics like bandwidth use.
- Network Sandboxing: when this type of software encounters suspicious network activity, it transfers that traffic information to a sandbox where threat scores are determined.
As the world’s largest network and security company and a well-known thought leader in the network security space, Cisco offers a top-tier portfolio of enterprise network security software solutions. They also offer an integrated portfolio that includes their network security products and adds in their solutions for user and endpoint protection, cloud edge access, and zero trust application security.
Although Cisco did not have the strongest zero trust foundation for many years, they completely changed their reputation after acquiring zero trust star Duo Security in 2018. Many tech experts have praised their smooth integration of Duo’s best practices, which are exemplified in Cisco’s commitment to three zero trust pillars: workforce, workplace, and workloads (WWW).
Network Security Category: Zero trust, firewalls, network analytics, cloud network security, VPN, endpoint security
- Cisco Secure Firewall and Secure IPS for data centers, offices, and clouds
- Cisco Meraki MX for SD-WAN connectivity and distributed locations
- Cisco AnyConnect with secure access, endpoint visibility, and posture enforcement
- Cisco Identity Services Engine with zero trust features like segmentation, threat containment, and secure access
- Cisco Secure Network Analytics for network traffic and real-time response metrics
- Cisco Secure Web Appliance for blocking and testing third-party sites
Cons: Several users have noted the higher price tag than most other network security solutions, as well as the steeper learning curve for launch and further implementation.
With its more narrow focus on DNS filtering, TitanHQ’s Web Titan consistently excels in protecting network users and devices against malware and phishing attacks, while also giving network administrators high levels of internet browsing visibility across their network users.
WebTitan offers many similar features to other DNS filtering tools, but several users have praised the wide variety of features that come at a reasonable price point. WebTitan also sets itself apart with specialized packages like Web Filter for Education, an option that protects students and faculty on a school’s network with eRate and CIPA compliant features. The tool is well known for its customization capabilities across industries like healthcare, hospitality, retail, and transportation, all of which require very different DNS filtering and compliance setups.
Network Security Category: DNS filtering, web security, email security
- Malware blocking and content filtering
- Business email compromise protections
- API-driven management and monitoring
- AI-powered protection against phishing URLs
- Web filter options for businesses, schools, and MSPs
Cons: Many users struggle through their initial setup phase and say that the user portal is difficult to read and navigate.
CrowdStrike Falcon is a platform with wide-ranging network security solutions, packaging everything from analytics dashboards to network security monitoring to zero trust, all through their managed services approach. CrowdStrike is considered cutting edge in the AI and machine learning sphere, and on the Falcon Platform, they use AI most successfully in threat management, providing threat intelligence 24/7 to help users recognize current threats and posture their network to better withstand future threats.
An area in which CrowdStrike has particularly grown over the past several months is zero trust. The company acquired zero trust access provider Preempt Security in September 2020, and in March 2021, they revealed integrations with Zscaler to improve device and application connections to zero trust software.
Network Security Category: Managed endpoint security, EDR, firewalls, device management, zero trust, identity threat detection (ITD), cloud security, managed services, network security monitoring, antivirus/antimalware
- CrowdStrike Store with native CrowdStrike applications and third-party applications
- Managed threat hunting and threat intelligence automation
- Instant visibility through Big Data and AI
- Fully managed service (configuration and operation by the CrowdStrike team)
- Threat Graph tool: the security industry’s largest cloud analytics platform
- Completely cloud-based
Cons: Many users complain about the baseline price of this platform, as well as the cost of add-on modules and new updates. Other users have also been frustrated by the lack of initial or ongoing training available to CrowdStrike customers.
Palo Alto is a robust network security portfolio that made several acquisitions from 2018 to 2020, and they continue to grow now. The company recently released several new network security tools, including an integrated cloud access security broker (CASB). They tout their new release as the only integrated SaaS security solution on the market, which will make their portfolio a great fit for enterprises that work with a lot of SaaS applications.
Network Security Category: Cloud network security, firewalls, network security management, 5G security, SD-WAN, secure access service edge (SASE), DNS security, malware analysis, zero trust, URL filtering, mobile workforce, IoT, enterprise data loss prevention
- Cloud Identity Engine makes it easier to verify user identities
- Advanced URL filtering service
- The world’s first ML-powered next generation firewall (NGFW)
- Firewall deployment options: virtual, physical, containerized, network security management, cloud-delivered security services, etc.
- Simplified network traffic visualization and management via Panorama feature
Cons: With such a wide-ranging portfolio and quasi-network security solutions available outside of their network security portfolio, it can be difficult for enterprises to budget for and determine exactly which solutions they need to meet their unique security requirements.
Fortinet released the first edition of Fortigate back in 2002, and with each new edition and added feature, it continues to place among the highest rated next generation firewalls (NGFW). Some of its top offerings include security fabric integration and SSL inspection. But it’s best known for working in and adapting to any network environment, whether on-premises, cloud, or hybrid.
Perhaps more impressive than any of their other solutions, Fortinet recognizes some of their limitations and the strengths of other network security providers. That’s why they showcase their collection of Next Generation Firewall Alliance Partners, a list with dozens of other network security companies that includes a solution brief and functionalities in relation to Fortigate.
Network Security Category: firewalls, next generation firewalls (NGFW)
- Appliance, virtual machine, and cloud options
- SSL inspection included
- Security fabric integration
- Single console management for network administrators
- Hyperscale network traffic inspections
Cons: The user interface is not considered very intuitive, particularly for newer network administrators. Many beginner and experienced users have also highlighted the complexities and intricacies of the command line interface compared to other firewall tools.
The Symantec Advanced Threat Protection team recognizes that a lot of security breaches happen via casual user communications over email, which is why they advertise themselves as a solution with “web and email working together.” Many of their solutions focus on protecting users, especially from themselves, with their Universal Policy Enforcement tool maintaining compliance at the application, device, location, and user levels.
One of Symantec’s most unique and impressive features is Content Analysis, a tool that dives deep into file inspection and sends unknown and/or suspicious content through predictive file analysis, and eventual sandbox detonation if it is found to be malicious content. This detailed approach to file-level security combs through minute pieces of data that most systems and analysts would completely miss.
Network Security Category: Secure web gateway, advanced threat protection, encrypted traffic management, messaging security, email security, sandboxing
- Consistently enforced security and compliance policies across the network
- Google Cloud Platform backbone
- Content and malware analysis with sandbox detonation
- Intelligent services and web filter
- Network traffic analysis with deep packet inspection
Cons: Several users have expressed that the tool runs slowly, especially when working with a large number of endpoints. Other users have commented that the tool would be improved by automated updates.
Bitdefender is a well-known solution in the personal use cybersecurity space, but their GravityZone tool is an evolving, popular tool for warding off ransomware and malware attacks at the enterprise level. Their anti-ransomware collection is comprehensive, offering automatically updated user file backups (no shadow copies), antimalware through machine learning, real-time process monitoring, and several risk mitigation technologies.
Bitdefender works hard to make the user interface accessible to network administrators, giving them an all-encompassing dashboard to track events, build and retrieve reports, and manage employee access to websites and applications. It’s also one of the few solutions on this list that integrates well with Mac OS and other Apple software.
Network Security Category: Endpoint risk management, antivirus/antimalware, firewalls
- AI and machine learning expertise enable better threat detection
- Application control, device control, and patch management
- Dashboards, reports, and API integrations
- Integrations with both Windows and Mac operating systems
- Web-based security with no additional hardware requirements
Several users have complained about the quality of support for Bitdefender GravityZone. It takes a long time for queries to receive responses, and oftentimes, users are redirected to outside resources and whitepapers when they want agent-backed assistance from Bitdefender. This support approach is especially challenging if you’re managing a network with limited IT staff in-house.
Used by top companies like FedEx and Honda, NinjaRMM consistently ranks as one of the best remote monitoring and management tools for enterprise networks. This tool focuses on preventative network maintenance, giving network administrators a dashboard format to monitor endpoints on the network and catch potential issues on user devices before they submit a support ticket.
While their product offerings are strong, what really sets NinjaRMM apart from similar network security software is their stellar support. They frequently rank as a top support provider, they offer free onboarding and training services, and they boast a 65-minute average first response time for customer service inquiries.
Network Security Category: Remote monitoring and management, backup
- Multi-platform endpoint management
- Patch management and IT automation
- Endpoint protection and secure remote access available
- Integrations with companies and tools like Bitdefender, Malwarebytes, ConnectWise, and BrightGauge
- Low overhead management and speedy implementation
Cons: Several users have called the UI complicated, stating that it’s difficult to visually monitor, sort, and create reports on all devices in a larger network. NinjaRMM also has a 50-device minimum, which may not be ideal for smaller companies.
Appgate SDP has only played in the zero trust space since January 2020, but it has quickly become a customer favorite for their constantly surfacing innovative features and for their receptive customer support team.
End users have reported that the company is always willing to rework their zero trust portfolio when customers discover problems or holes, and they do not rely on the legacy models that many of their competitors use.
Network Security Category: Zero trust
- Identity-centric microperimeters
- Dynamic user entitlement changes
- Concurrent access and posture checking
- Patented port cloaking technology to hide your secured apps
- Integrations with AWS, Azure, vSphere, and GCP metadata
Cons: Their products frequently undergo quality assurance and improvements, so for a busy network administrator, it’s quite easy to miss a key update or new feature that you need to know about.
VMware’s security portfolio heavily focuses on running lean, or eliminating unnecessary hardware, software, and compute actions to limit the surfaces that hackers can damage. They architect their software solutions to the other services and programs that you run rather than to your hardware, making sure that signatures aren’t run through all network traffic, in order to lower necessary compute power.
Although the actual transition to and implementation of these solutions can be a headache for users, the server virtualization approach that VMware takes integrates network security into cloud, application, and device layers instead of “bolting on.” This makes it easier for your network to stay up-to-date on security trends and upgrades as VMware integrates them into the infrastructure.
Network Security Category: Network detection and response (NDR), firewalls, distributed IDS/IPS, advanced threat analyzer, zero trust
- Intrinsic security built into network infrastructure, based on location of workloads
- Stateful Layer 7 inspection and and service-defined firewall
- As-needed application of firewall and WAF rules
- Load balancer with WAF
- Security analytics
Cons: Although VMware works with other partners, they offer few integrations with other security software providers, which can be a problem for enterprises that are reluctant to move away from their existing security infrastructure and/or for enterprises with more specialized application needs than VMware can support.
Network security products come with a range of capabilities, but they also come at a wide range of price points. Figure out your must-haves and top priorities, do your research on the companies that excel in those areas, and determine if their payment plan works for you.
Although security portfolios that cover several types of security look appealing and create diverse protections for your network, they can also be incredibly expensive and may offer features that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will never use.
Support and Customer Service
Before you select a network security tool, it’s a good idea to look at their customer reviews, especially in the realm of customer support. Is customer support included with your purchase, or is it an extra cost? Do you have direct access to their agents, a library of resources, and/or a forum of other enterprise users when you have questions or problems? These are important questions to answer before you make your purchase so you’ll know how to use the tool beyond its initial launch.
Offerings and Integrations
Many network security tools specialize in one niche area of security, but in several of those cases, they offer integrations with other security tools to round out your network defenses. Take a look at what’s natively offered in network security tools, the advances or new features that they’ve added in recent years, and any existing partnerships or integrations that they offer. Although every network security software option is a little bit different and might not exactly fit what you need, you can usually find a way to build it into a solution that works optimally for your network.