Networking 101: Understanding Microsegmentation

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Microsegmentation is the process of separating the data and systems in your network into smaller categories and use cases. This granular breakdown enables you to add more specific security parameters and authentication requirements to each group, rather than casting a wider net of security around the whole network. 

The microsegmentation approach helps your network in many ways, particularly for enterprises that want to classify and add greater safeguards to the most sensitive data collections in their network. Microsegmentation is one of the first and most important steps in creating a zero trust network, or a policy that trusts neither internal nor external users and devices without verification and limitations.

Read More: Steps to Building a Zero Trust Network

What is Microsegmentation?

How is Microsegmentation Different from Network Segmentation?

Microsegmentation is often confused with the more general approach known as network segmentation. Network segmentation involves creating security perimeters, firewalls, passwords, and other authentication methods around the entire attack surface or individual attack surfaces. But once an attacker is in, they can easily move across that surface. If there are sensitive data present in a network segment, the data have not necessarily been separated from other data and likely do not have their own security protocols. 

With microsegmentation, the data in the network is completely mapped out, categorized, and separated by level of importance and access needed. More specific security perimeters are applied to the most sensitive microsegments of data once they are identified, along with other safeguards like multi-factor authentication requirements.

An Analogy: Microsegmentation in the Human Body

Let’s consider the example of the human body for comparison. Enterprise network security shares many parallels with the physical features that keep our bodies safe and healthy.

Network segmentation looks a lot like basic outer layers of protection for the human body, such as skin or the musculoskeletal system. These features protect our cells and vital organs from injury and infection in most cases, but they aren’t completely secure; germs can enter our bodies through entrances like our mouths and noses. Once these germs make it through an entry point, there’s the possibility that they could make it to any other part of the human body. 

Microsegmentation in the human body, then, would look like the cell-level protection that we see under a microscope. Human cells are each surrounded by a cytoplasmic membrane, which allows things like nutrients to enter but keeps out infection and other harmful microbes. At an even more granular level, individual human cells have lysosomes inside of them to break down and push out harmful substances so that they can’t cause further damage. Your body can still suffer from disease or injury, but cell-level micro-protections make it more difficult for harmful microbes to do harm.

More on Microsegmentation and Security: Microsegmentation: The Next Evolution in Cybersecurity

Why Should Enterprise Networks Apply Microsegmentation?

Microsegmentation should be applied to networks of all sizes, but especially to enterprise networks with hundreds of databases and devices. It’s difficult to track the whereabouts of your sensitive data and when and how it’s being used, especially as your employees and their devices spread across the globe. Here are just a couple of reasons why you should implement microsegmentation to protect your enterprise network:  

Customer Privacy and Enterprise Credibility

Many enterprises store sensitive customer or employee data, such as personally identifiable information (PII) or protected health information (PHI). If this data falls victim to a breach, it could put the finances or safety of these individuals at risk, both before and after the breach is detected. 

Enterprises will have to communicate with affected customers during a breach, and if the breach is bad enough, the media will likely cover the breach, i.e. the Equifax breach of 2017. At minimum, security breaches decrease trust in an enterprise’s credibility over time.

Through the process of microsegmentation, enterprise networks intentionally build an infrastructure that recognizes customer data as sensitive data and separates it out for higher levels of protection. Breaches are still possible and can still cause damage, but customer data is more likely to stay safe behind the microsegment’s additional authentication requirements. 

New Workplace Settings and Devices

Many users now work remotely and use different devices with different levels of security and sophistication. You want these users to have all of the access that they need to do their jobs well, but you don’t want to give them or outside users unnecessary levels of access to your company data. 

Microsegmentation helps to protect the most sensitive parts of your network, even if these users have new ways to bypass traditional security in the cloud via edge network devices.

Also Read: Approaches to Cybersecurity in 5G-driven Enterprise Networks

The Future of Microsegmentation and Cellular Technology

Enterprise networks maintain many of the traditional features of a wired network, but with the widespread access to 4G and 5G cellular technology, users and devices can now access and transmit data through wireless networks, cloud and edge computing, and even some IoT devices. 

Data no longer has to be stored or retrieved from the central hubs of your network, which increases the speed of access, but also decreases data visibility for your network’s administrators. Your enterprise may never be able to centralize data access points ever again, but through a microsegmentation approach, they can limit the “who,” “what,” “when,” and “where” of how distant users and devices access data.

Microsegmentation will be even more important if 6G develops in the next decade, because experts predict that device-to-device data transmission will become a reality. The speed and accessibility of this development is exciting. However, it also leaves data more vulnerable since it can move to new locations and devices at greater speeds than ever before. 

Microsegmentation ensures that more barriers sit in the way of these users and devices when they try to access data that they don’t need, protecting your data but still leaving data open to approved enterprise network uses.

Read Next: Going Beyond 5G: What to Expect from a 6G Future

Shelby Hiter
Shelby Hiter
Shelby Hiter is a writer with more than five years of experience in writing and editing, focusing on healthcare, technology, data, enterprise IT, and technology marketing. She currently writes for four different digital publications in the technology industry: Datamation, Enterprise Networking Planet, CIO Insight, and Webopedia. When she’s not writing, Shelby loves finding group trivia events with friends, cross stitching decorations for her home, reading too many novels, and turning her puppy into a social media influencer.
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