Network segmentation: definition, examples & more
Imagine this scenario:
You’re checking in on your biggest client’s network (biggest in infrastructure size and revenue). You’re breathing a sigh of relief because you recently moved them over to a single remote monitoring and management (RMM) platform.
However, over time, you’re starting to see more and more complaints about clients not being able to access items on the network as quickly as they would like. Perhaps you discover a cyberthreat, scrambling to locate and isolate the intrusion. The attack takes mere seconds to shut down, but it should’ve taken milliseconds. These and other situations can showcase how much better your structure needs to be.
Situations like these reinforce how important efficient monitoring is for your business. Understanding how network segmentation can support these efforts can help put your MSP miles ahead of the competition.
In this article, we’ll dive into the many applications and benefits network segmentation can offer for your MSP.
What is a network segment?
A network segment is a subsection of an organization’s larger network. Network segment examples include segments created for specific teams or departments within your client’s organization. Each of these segments—or subnetworks—can have specific security parameters that help each area of the organization perform its unique tasks effectively and safely.
Network segmentation is the process responsible for creating these segments or subsections. IT staff partition the network into these smaller segments via virtualization that decouples network resources from their physical hardware.
A network segment allows for greater security and makes network monitoring more manageable since it exists as a smaller, isolated section of the overall network. This allows you to keep a closer eye on network traffic and performance. For more insight on how to improve your network monitoring practices, check out our webinar, Master Network Monitoring: An MSP's Guide.
Types and examples of network segmentation
Companies looking to segment their network generally rely on one of two methods:
- Perimeter-based segmentation: Divides the network into internal and external areas. Network protocols tell the infrastructure to trust anything internal and question anything external. The challenge is that the internal/external split is simplistic. Any amount of internal traffic can enter the network without much filtering. Eventually, localized virtual networks within a particular system (virtual local area networks, or VLANs) became a temporary security measure. IT admins started to use VLANs as a security measure because they could be used to divide the broadcast domain. But they were never meant to be used that way, as VLANs lack the necessary filters within their own architecture to be safe. Additionally, you need to create protocols to control traffic within the network.
- Virtualization: Cloud, mobile, and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environments have rendered perimeter-based networking obsolete. These new technologies began to erode the edge or perimeter of network architecture. Thus, virtualization was born to handle modern network structures and traffic patterns. This new technology takes the perimeter-based segmentation of the past and distributes it throughout the cloud, providing more granular security protocols for greater network protection.
Network segmentation use cases
Now, with a better understanding of network segmentation and what a network segment is, let’s look at some real-world use cases.
- Ease network monitoring. Network monitoring is essential from both a security and performance standpoint, but the more organized your client networks are, the more successful you can be in this area. A well-segmented network makes it easier for MSPs to prioritize how they allocate resources when it comes to the type of monitoring and degree of monitoring. For example, a network segment with sensitive data or heavy usage could have a larger focus in monitoring to preserve client operations.
- Manage compliance standards. You can calibrate specific segments within a client’s network to have different levels of access permissions. If they’re in an industry that requires strict adherence to compliance standards — like healthcare or finance—you can store the sensitive data behind a heavily restricted network segment, making compliance with industry and data standards much easier than with traditional network architecture. Zero trust network architecture (ZTNA) can help automate checks against compliance standards, providing another layer of protection.
- Separate external and internal accounts. Clients in certain industries may require guests to access their network or resources, such as a third-party hosting company. Using segmentation, your clients can keep their internal system separate from guest accounts on the network. This allows guests safe and secure access to the resources they need without endangering internal mission-critical system components.
- Stop the movement of cyberthreats. Network segmentation allows you to provide access to only the information necessary for employees to do their jobs (e.g., only HR can access HR data, only finance can access finance data, etc.). This lessens the risk of internal attacks or employees mismanaging data they shouldn’t be able to access. It can also help prevent significant cybersecurity events like data breaches from affecting mission-critical data in other network segments.
Benefits of network segmentation
If you’re wondering how network segmentation can help your clients’ current workflow, here are some benefits you can expect.
Using network segmentation allows for more granular control over security and access permissions. Data breaches and cyberattacks are more easily preventable. within a segmented system since each segment can have its own individual set of controls.
Locating, identifying, and isolating cyberthreats also becomes easier when you segment a client’s network. Since cyber criminals can’t move laterally from segment to segment, it’s easier to monitor subnetworks and pinpoint cyberattacks before they cause any significant damage.
Better endpoint management
Endpoint reconciliation becomes virtually unnecessary in a segmented network. When the network is broken down into more manageable chunks, endpoint management becomes more efficient. You can manage each subnetwork more efficiently, so endpoint monitoring is no longer the tedious, time-consuming task it once was.
You can break down each subsection of a network simply by clear criteria, such as by assigning each department within an organization its own network segment. This means you’ll only need to manage and monitor the network assets of one department in each subsection. This can help declutter reporting and, when supplemented with automation, help save time and effort on routine tasks like server updates.
Discover more advantages of advanced network monitoring tips, tricks, and tactics in our webinar, Master Network Monitoring: An MSP's Guide.
Best practices for network segmentation
Your client agreeing to segment their network is only the beginning of the journey. As you dig into the actual process of network segmentation, remember the following best practices:
- Practice moderation: There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Creating too many segments can dilute the benefits of network segmentation and ultimately make network management more confusing. Striking the proper balance is vital.
- Evaluate regularly: Your job is not done after you create your network segments—you must monitor these subnetworks routinely. RMM software can help with continuous maintenance and monitoring in a variety of ways, from patch management to instant endpoint access.
- Practice least privilege: Grant segment or subnetwork access only to those who need it. You’ll greatly reduce security risks and concerns by granting access only when and where necessary. Implementing the principle of least privilege is also an essential building block of zero trust network policy—a pillar of keeping your clients’ organizations secure.
- Leverage automation when possible: Applying automation to your segmentation process offers numerous benefits. You’ll increase your network’s visibility and security. Automation will also allow you to quickly locate and categorize any new data or IT assets as your clients add them to their systems. RMM is a critical addition for any network segmentation tech stack because it enables these automation features.
Network segmentation solutions for MSPs
Ready to leverage the power of automation to more effectively monitor and manage your IT infrastructure?
Connectwise RMM’s comprehensive remote monitoring and management solution is equipped with network monitoring features to help you proactively discover, monitor, alert, and report on the health of your remote network infrastructure. Watch a free on-demand demo today for a first-hand look at intelligent RMM in action.