Ransomware, and Why Organizations of All Sizes Should Evaluate Network Segmentation

You’ve probably read or discussed the news articles and public disclosures.

A major bank gets hacked, the personal data of a 100 million customers falls into the wrong hands, and it costs the bank hundreds of millions of dollars to fix.

A major U.S. municipality is held ransom for database control, forcing it to rely on old-school data-keeping methods as it courageously defies the extortive criminal demands.

How can these kinds of attacks succeed in today’s cyber-vigilant day and age?

The aforementioned are just the high-profile cases. Below the radar of the headlines, smaller companies encounter spoofing ploys, ransomware and evolving malware, and every day too many of them get compromised or deceived into sending funds to a cybercriminal.

There will always be human errors and cyber-villains seeking to capitalize, so, what is it that we can actually change? The answer lies in an evolving security architecture and how we define next-generation network segmentation.

Traditional Security Architectures Pose Risks

Nearly every harmful corporate cyber-assault is a lesson in unsound traffic patterns, of network blind-spots, of organizations not sufficiently insulating enterprise jewels, not properly segmenting network traffic and not adequately shoring up endpoint protection and access control against powerful automated takeover attacks.

It’s nobody’s fault really. The private network has changed, gotten more complex, become a WAN without boundaries. You have users connecting into the private network while they’re plugged into data transaction points outside your network security team’s control on the Internet and in the cloud, some of these access points potentially vulnerable. Do you want to allow traffic and files from Internet and multiple cloud access points to merge with important private network traffic and databases via common pathways? From a smart central security perspective, the twain should never meet.

What’s more, cybersecurity skills, especially in cloud network security, are in short demand, and network and IT departments have to wear many other hats in their jobs. It gets challenging to structure network patterns to keep roaming users connected and satisfied while also prohibiting sneaky lateral movement of suspicious or known threats. A zero trust network approach must not result in an unintended plethora of zero-access lines. Connection hurdles can hurt your business: employees still need to get data and communicate.

Network Segmentation, Microsegmentation, and Access Control

Your users are traversing myriad websites and Internet access points, downloading tools, plugging in at public charging stations and then connecting to private enterprise assets. Network segmentation is about restricting direct gateways into the heart of the business so traffic flow patterns don’t inadvertently put the organization at high risk. But network segmentation has been difficult and expensive due to the amount of resources and effort needed to reconfigure distributed physical equipment such as VLANs, routers and switches.

A next generation of network segmentation, microsegmentation (or software-defined segmentation) is the partitioning of workloads from one another, including in the cloud, between multi-cloud access points, and between data centers and databases.

Gartner wrote: “Microsegmentation (also referred to as software-defined segmentation, zero trust network segmentation or logical segmentation) uses policy- and workload-identity-driven firewalling (typically software-based) or network cryptography to isolate workloads, applications and processes in data centers, public cloud IaaS and containers. This includes workloads that span on-premises and multiple public cloud IaaS providers.”

What this translates into from a security perspective is when some of your databases and servers are hosted they creep out of your view and control, so keeping the workloads of these different transaction points separate is mandatory in order to protect your most precious enterprise data and digital assets.

Workstation Microsegmentation

Securing this larger, more distributed attack surface without talking about endpoint agents (i.e., software-defined networking on portable laptops and other human-manned mobile workstations as well as virtual machines) is unrealistic. These devices are all part of your network, whether you’re in the cloud or not, and an initial point of potential compromise.

It’s a hybrid, multi-cloud network for many organizations, not just one big tidy cloud environment. More-granular segmentation is needed in both cloud environments and your endpoint-defined private network.

Microsegmentation tends to merely represent a granular, cloud- and data-center-workload-focused approach to segmentation. But your segmentation should not be restricted to just data centers and clouds when you have to also protect end users connecting to each other, to the cloud, and to on-premises network assets.

OPAQ offers both network segmentation and microsegmentation at the endpoints, that is, on the devices that connect or traverse Internet, cloud and multi-cloud access points. Each protected endpoint, whether stationary or mobile, carries security and segmentation policy, ensuring that these devices don’t act as the conduits for infection with each other or networks, servers or databases.

Microsegmentation doesn’t have to be impossible for small and midsize enterprises or new branch offices, all in the crosshairs of powerful distributed attacks. Neither should the ability to rapidly roll out next-gen network security policy to endpoints, which nowadays is crucial for small and midsize enterprises and large-enterprise branch offices alike. Your endpoints are your weakest links, a ‘way in’ for the sophisticated attack and bad actor. Segmenting cloud and database workloads is smart, but a lateral spread can still afflict your workforce and cost you if you don’t bolster your endpoints with advanced security policy including network segmentation by host and user groups.

Don’t underestimate the threat of malicious lateral movement through your security architecture.

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