What is Network Security?
Data breaches are serious issues in the modern business world. According to IBM, the average cost of a data breach in 2021 was an astonishing $4.24 million. Furthermore, the same source tells us that companies take an average of 212 days to even register that they have a breach!
Having good network security is the only way to combat these breaches. But what is network security? And what are the different types you can use to protect your network and the data shared on it? This article answers those questions.
Network Security refers to the strategic practices and technologies designed to protect any data, software, and hardware on a network infrastructure from breaches, ensuring the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of data.
It encompasses multiple layers of defenses such as access control, firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), encryption, and antivirus software, each designed to guard against different types of threats like malware, ransomware, phishing, or DoS attacks.
Regular vulnerability assessments, user training, and implementing a well-structured security policy are crucial elements in maintaining robust network security, reducing the risk of unauthorized access, data leaks, and minimizing potential damages.
What is Network Security? – In-depth
Network security incorporates the tools, techniques, and security policies that organizations and individuals use to protect computer networks. Proper network security involves the use of hardware and software to identify threats and prevent malicious parties, such as hackers, from gaining access to a network. Beyond the obvious security components, it also incorporates the management of that network to ensure all authorized users operate safely within the network.
Most network security efforts involve a multi-layered approach that combines various defenses both inside the network and on its edge. Think of the defenses on the edge as a suit or armor that blocks intrusion, with those on the inside taking the attack to anything that gets beyond the armor. The main goal is to prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to a network they would then hack or exploit.
Why is it important to make network security work?
We live in a data-driven world.
Every time you go online, you’re sharing data from a device. You’re also sharing data whenever you hand your details to a company, such as when you create an online account. Furthermore, all companies that retain data need to protect it so that malicious parties can’t gain access.
Without network security solutions, that protection isn’t possible.
Hackers would get access to data easily, allowing them to exploit companies and legitimate users. Poor network security is often to blame in cases of data breaches, stolen information, and identity theft.
The Network Security Types
With network security defined, it’s time to explore the types of network security available. Each of these types serves a different purpose and requires the use of various tools. Understanding them allows you to create the multi-layered approach required to protect your network and its data.
Type No. 1 – Network Security Firewalls
Firewalls control all of the traffic that comes into or goes out of a network. They’re your network’s first, and often most important, line of defense.
Think of them as guards stationed outside gated communities or company facilities. These guards check credentials and decide who gets access to their facilities and who doesn’t. Firewalls act similarly. They’re created with security rules designed to prevent unauthorized access and ensure data doesn’t leak out of the network.
At the basic level, firewalls regulate traffic on a network. However, more modern firewalls, such as next generation firewalls, go a step further. They’re designed to block malware attacks and threats to a network’s application layer.
Type No. 2 – Antivirus Software
Many external threats can compromise a network. These include computer viruses, which affect how a system operates, and malware. Short for malicious software, malware is often used in cyber attacks to access the data stored in a network so it can be stolen for malicious purposes.
Even if malware isn’t designed to directly steal data, it can be used to corrupt files or delete vital information. Worse yet, some forms of malware are designed to lie dormant for long periods, creating backdoor access into a network that hackers can exploit. Without protection against viruses and malware, a network is constantly vulnerable to attacks.
That’s where antivirus software comes in.
Antivirus software often builds on the protection that comes from firewalls. However, this software is more focused as it scans network traffic for signs of suspicious files or behavior. This software often works in real-time, which means it identifies and stops threats as they occur.
Type No. 3 – Network Access Control
Network access control is a critical intrusion prevention system. The concept is simple. Ensure that only authorized users have access to sensitive aspects of a network by providing them with unique details they use to gain access.
You’re likely familiar with the basic forms of network access, like usernames and passwords. More advanced versions may use biometric data, such as fingerprints and facial scans, for more comprehensive security. In many cases, organizations use multi-factor authentication to grant access, which involves combining several access controls that deny access to anybody who doesn’t meet all factors.
Type No. 4 – Application Security
Software can provide hackers with backdoors into a network.
Let’s say you have a piece of software that your company has used for several years. Effective network security involves updating that software whenever the creators offer an update. Failure to do so leads to your business using an outdated and unsupported version of the software.
That’s a problem. The lack of support means the software creators no longer change anything to protect the software against hacking. If malicious parties discover a new way to break into the software, you can’t rely on the creators to fix the old version. They’re focusing their efforts on the new version.
Application security is the blanket term used to describe any security strategy related to the software used in a computer network.
Keeping software updated is key to this type of network security. Other strategies involve limiting the software packages you use, thus providing hackers with fewer opportunities to break in. Any external protection provided to your applications, such as firewalls and anti-malware software, also counts toward application security.
Type No. 5 – Network Segmentation
Many companies use multiple networks. The easiest example of this is the difference between a company’s internal network and the internet. An internal network needs protection against the much larger network that the internet creates.
Segmentation allows companies to separate their different networks. It involves creating boundaries between networks so potential threats can’t leak from one network to another. In the above example, these boundaries prevent sensitive data from leaking out of a company network onto the internet.
Some take segmentation a step further by defining multiple segments within a single network. In the corporate network example, this may include using access management techniques to ensure that regular workers can’t access files that are intended solely for management.
Type No. 6 – Behavioral Analytics
One of the more advanced types of network security, behavioral analytics involves examining how people act on a network. Behavioral analytics tools track typical behavior to establish a baseline for how users operate on the network. Using this baseline, the tools then constantly scan the network to look for signs of behavior that go outside the norm.
Any unusual behavior can be a sign that a network attack has occurred or is in progress. The analytics tools notify the appropriate security services and personnel so they can implement the security strategies needed to prevent the attack.
Type No. 7 – Virtual Private Networks
Commonly used for personal network security and corporate networks, virtual private networks (VPNs) provide encrypted remote connections to servers.
On the corporate level, remote access VPNs are often used to provide access to a company’s services for individual users. For example, a company may use VPNs to offer access to clients who use mobile devices outside of the company’s internal network. Both the host and user usually have special VPN software installed to enable this access.
For individual users, a virtual private network allows them to encrypt the data transmitted from their device when they’re online. This can prevent internet service providers and malicious parties from tracking what the user does when using the internet. VPNs may also allow users to access content from other countries that they may not be able to see otherwise.
A virtual private network encrypts all of the data transmitted through it. Further protection often comes in the form of multi-factor authentication and endpoint security and compliance scanning.
Type No. 8 – Email Security
Almost every company uses email for communication. Hackers know this, which is why they’ve created many techniques used to compromise emails and gain access to information they shouldn’t have. These techniques include phishing, email scams, and sending harmful attachments.
Sadly, many aren’t aware of the risks that email can pose. It only takes one unwitting employee to download a malicious attachment to compromise a network. Proper email security prevents this using several tools and techniques.
The most important of these tools are spam filters. Designed to identify and weed out threatening emails, these filters aim to prevent users from even seeing the emails that could compromise a network. More advanced versions of these filters check both incoming and outgoing traffic, meaning they can identify when outgoing emails contain potentially sensitive information.
Education is also a core component of email security. By informing employees of the risks they need to look out for, companies can mitigate the risk of workers falling foul of damaging emails.
Type No. 9 – Intrusion Prevention Systems
Intrusion prevention systems (IPS) detect security attacks by blocking hackers from exploiting known vulnerabilities in a network. They’re crucial in the prevention of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and the brute force techniques hackers sometimes use to discover user passwords.
IPS technologies help to fill in the gaps in a company’s network security efforts.
For example, hackers might find a way to compromise a piece of software your company uses. It may take the software distributors a few days, or even weeks, to roll out a patch that fixes the vulnerability the hackers exploited to compromise the software. In these cases, IPS technologies protect a network from attacks that stem from the software’s weak point until a security patch becomes available.
Type No. 10 – Endpoint Security
Many companies leverage cloud infrastructure in their networks. While this is great in the sense that the cloud allows the organization to offer its services and provide remote access, it also comes with enhanced security concerns. A company can’t allow any old hardware technologies to gain access because the devices used could be compromised even if the network the user connects to is secure.
Endpoint security is used to ensure devices that connect to a network are secured against threats. These devices can include workstations, smartphones, printers, laptops, and any other hardware that connects to the network.
Network Security Examples
There are many network security examples that you’ll come across in your daily and professional lives. Each of them is designed to protect both you and the organization providing the services you’re accessing. Good examples include the following:
Many companies don’t allow employees to use their personal devices to connect to their corporate networks. This is a form of endpoint security because it prevents malicious software from being transmitted from a personal device. For instance, your laptop might have a virus that you don’t know about that would get transmitted to a corporate network without these measures.
Most email clients have a spam folder that you can access directly. This folder contains all of the emails the client has identified as being potentially harmful. We don’t recommend opening these emails as they often have links or attachments that could damage a network.
There are many examples of companies using biometrics as part of their access controls. Even if the devices you use to connect to a network don’t require biometrics, you may have to use a fingerprint or facial scanner to gain access to a corporate building. These examples prevent malicious parties from gaining physical access to a company’s network hardware.
Many companies offer virus protection software, including Norton, McAfee, and AVG. All Microsoft Windows operating systems also come with a basic firewall, which users can supplement with additional protection.
How to stay safe online:
- Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
- Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
- Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
- Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions.
Why is network security important?
What is a network security attack?
What Is ethical hacking?
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab