Network Security Architecture Guide

The Ultimate Network Security Architecture Guide for IT Leaders

This guide provides CISOs and IT leaders with an in-depth look at network security architectures. It explains the key concepts in plain language, dives into the core components, shares a framework for implementation, discusses emerging trends, and offers actionable insights to improve an organization’s security posture.

What is Network Security Architecture?

A network security architecture includes the security controls and processes designed to protect an organization’s network against attack. Designing a robust security architecture is essential to managing cybersecurity risk to the organization, complying with regulatory requirements, and ensuring that the corporate network is able to meet business needs.

Core Components of a Robust Network Security Architecture

A network security architecture provides an organization with visibility and control over its entire network infrastructure and offers the tools needed to defend it against various cyber threats. Implementing a robust network security architecture requires deploying certain key functions and capabilities.

Network Segmentation

Network segmentation breaks the corporate network into logical subnetworks based on purpose, level of sensitivity, and business needs. By implementing network segmentation, an organization gains greater visibility into how its network is being used and the ability to identify and block attempted lateral movement across the network.

Access Control

Access control is critical to achieving the core cybersecurity goals of confidentiality, integrity, and availability. At the network level, next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) and zero trust network access (ZTNA) control access to network resources to permit or deny access requests accordingly.

Endpoint Protection

Intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS) can be deployed at the endpoint or the network level. Deploying IDS/IPS capabilities at the network level enables an organization to detect and respond to threats to endpoint security before the malicious content reaches the target device.

Data Encryption

Data traveling over public networks runs the risk of interception and eavesdropping. Encrypting data in transit using the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol both protects against eavesdroppers and adds important integrity and authenticity protections for network traffic.

Threat Monitoring

Cyberattacks can occur at any time, so corporate networks require round-the-clock security monitoring to enable rapid threat detection and incident response. This includes both an intrusion detection/prevention system (IDS/IPS) and security solutions that offer advanced threat detection capabilities.

Incident Response

Network monitoring and forensics can be used to detect various types of attacks, including distributed denial of service (DDoS), attempted malware infections, data breaches, and account takeover attacks. Once a potential intrusion has been identified, the security team also needs the skills and tools required to remediate the threat. For example, the organization may need to filter DDoS traffic or restrict the access of a compromised account.

Governance and Compliance

Governance and compliance are key components of any security program, and a security architecture should support these efforts. Granular network visibility and control are key to effective security governance and regulatory compliance since organizations need to ensure compliance with corporate policies and regulatory requirements and generate reports demonstrating this compliance.

A Framework for Designing and Implementing Network Security Architecture

Implementing an effective security architecture can be a high-stakes endeavor for a business. The following key steps and best practices help IT leaders ensure that their security architecture meets business and security needs.

#1. Assess Current State and Identify Gaps

A gap analysis is a crucial first step in scoping a security architecture redesign. Organizations should map out their existing security architecture and compare it to the desired capabilities and the threats that they need to manage. Based on this analysis, the security team and leadership can develop a strategy for closing these gaps and strengthening and modernizing the organization’s security architecture.

#2. Define Objectives and Align with Business Goals

As businesses evolve, so do the corporate network and the ways that it is used. For example, modern corporate networks often support a larger remote workforce and have a larger cloud footprint than was common in the past.

When designing a corporate security architecture, it’s important to ensure that this architecture’s design aligns with the needs of the business. For example, if the organization needs to provide high-performance, secure remote access to cloud resources, then traffic between remote workers or sites and the cloud shouldn’t be backhauled through the headquarters network for security inspection and policy enforcement.

#3. Design the Architecture

During the previous stage, the organization should define and prioritize the various requirements for its security architecture. Based on these requirements, it can now select solutions and design a security architecture that meets its needs. For example, if an organization wants to implement a zero trust security model then selecting solutions that support zero trust, such as ZTNA, over those that don’t, like a virtual private network (VPN), is essential to achieving this goal.

#4. Proof of Concept (POC)

A full-scale rollout of a security architecture risks outages and other issues if there are issues that still need to be worked out. Before implementing the design at scale, perform a proof of concept (POC) in an emulated environment or low-risk segment of the network. This enables the organization to work out any issues and streamline deployment processes before attempting to implement them at scale.

#5. Implement and Test

After completing a POC, the organization is ready to deploy its network security architecture. While many of the design issues should have been worked out during the POC, other potential stumbling blocks may remain. After deployment, the company should test its implementation to validate that it meets the requirements defined earlier in the process.

#6. Monitor, Measure, and Optimize

While a POC will identify major issues with an organization’s network security architecture, some problems and inefficiencies will only be visible after a full-scale rollout. Additionally, as an organization’s network architecture and business needs evolve, its network security requirements will change as well.

After deployment is complete, the security team should transition into regular monitoring and measurement of its security architecture. This supports the identification of any security gaps and allows the organization to optimize its security architecture based on collected data.

Evaluating the Maturity and Effectiveness of Your Network Security Architecture

Whether an organization is just implementing a security architecture or has been operating one for years, it needs a method of assessing how well its solutions are doing their job. The following best practices can help estimate the organization’s security maturity and identify potential gaps that require remediation.

Key Metrics and KPIs to Track

An organization’s security architecture is its first line of defense against cyberattacks. Some of the key metrics and KPIs that an organization might consider tracking to measure the effectiveness and maturity of its network security systems include the following:

  • Mean time to incident detection.
  • Mean time to incident response.
  • Mean time to recovery.
  • Number of blocked attacks.
  • Number of detected incidents in a given period.
  • False positive rate.
  • False negative rate.
  • Number of unpatched systems.
  • Average time to patch a new vulnerability.
  • Network uptime.
  • Regulatory compliance rate.
  • Percent of unauthorized access attempts successfully blocked.
  • Number of security policy violations detected in a given period.

Conducting Regular Audits and Penetration Testing

Regular audits and penetration testing are an essential part of measuring and tracking the maturity of an organization’s security architecture over time. These security assessments can determine if the organization is vulnerable to common attacks exploiting unpatched vulnerabilities and can gauge how hard an attacker must work to successfully exploit the organization.

These security assessments are also an opportunity for the organization to improve and address any security gaps. Any audit findings should be reported, and the organization should design and implement a strategy for remediating these issues. Once remediation is complete, the effectiveness of the new controls should be tested to validate that they addressed the issue and have not introduced any other vulnerabilities.

Benchmarking Against Industry Standards and Frameworks

Corporate network security infrastructure designs are often dictated by internal requirements. So, many companies will seek guidance from industry standards and frameworks to help design or evaluate their security architectures. Some common examples include ISO 27001 and the NIST CSF.

Benchmarking against industry standards and frameworks helps to ensure that an organization’s security architecture addresses security gaps. However, it’s also useful because many industry standards map to other regulatory requirements and standards. Aligning an organization’s security architecture to one or more of these may help it achieve compliance.

A network security architecture needs to meet the organization’s evolving business needs and provide protection against an evolving threat landscape. There are key trends that IT leaders need to consider when designing a sustainable security architecture.

The Rise of Hybrid and Remote Work

The rise in remote and hybrid work has had a profound impact on security architectures. With a remote workforce, an organization needs to provide secure, convenient, and high-performance connectivity between a distributed workforce and the corporate WAN. To accomplish this, many companies are embracing cloud computing and have rolled out remote access solutions such as VPNs or ZTNA at scale.

Accelerating Cloud Migration and Adoption

Nearly every company uses some cloud service, and 89% of companies have a multi-cloud footprint. This widespread adoption of cloud infrastructure has significant implications for network security as organizations need to secure data and applications that lie outside of the traditional network perimeter and ensure that both on-site and remote workers have secure access to corporate cloud resources. These tasks are complicated by the widespread adoption of multi-cloud environments, which require that an organization deploy consistent security and integrated identity management across multiple unique cloud platforms.

The Proliferation of IoT Devices

The Internet of Things (IoT) includes a variety of networked device types. As more smart devices are deployed on corporate and personal networks, they pose a growing security risk.

IoT devices are often used as part of botnets used in DDoS attacks, credential stuffing, and other automated attacks. Additionally, as most IoT devices are not designed with security, they are often used as a gateway into corporate and private networks, offering attackers access to company devices and the potential to steal sensitive information. Corporate security architectures must account for security risks posed by these devices because they use non-standard protocols, contain unpatched vulnerabilities, and violate basic security hygiene.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can be a boon for both cybercriminals and the organizations defending against them. On the offensive side, AI can be used to automate the process of identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities in an organization’s cyber defenses, enabling larger and more scalable cyberattacks. Additionally, generative AI tools such as ChatGPT and Bard can be used to develop sophisticated phishing emails and malware or help cyberattackers to hone their skills.

On the defensive side, AI/ML has been a key part of network security tools for some time now. AI-enhanced tools can more accurately differentiate between true threats and false positives, allowing faster threat detection. They also unlock the ability to automate incident response by writing and executing playbooks, enabling the organization to more quickly address intrusions to limit the impact on the organization.

MITRE ATT&CK Framework

The MITRE ATT&CK framework was first released in 2018, and, since then, has been updated to track the latest changes in the cyber threat landscape. MITRE ATT&CK breaks down the key goals that an attacker needs to achieve during a cyberattack and describes the various ways that they can be accomplished and how to detect, block, or mitigate them.

MITRE ATT&CK is an invaluable resource for understanding cyberattacks and designing defenses against them. Many attacks are mapped to the ATT&CK framework, and organizations can use the tool to identify potential gaps in their defenses or plan security assessments to test the effectiveness of their existing controls.

Overcoming Common Network Security Architecture Challenges

When designing, implementing, and operating a security architecture, IT leaders can run into certain challenges and roadblocks. Understanding how to overcome these challenges is essential to deploying an effective and sustainable security architecture.

Integrating Disparate Security Tools and Technologies

Many security teams are overwhelmed by the number of security tools that they need to monitor, manage, and use to detect or remediate cyberattacks. With an array of point security products, indicators of compromise (IoCs) are missed, security and visibility gaps are more common, and cyberattacks slip through the cracks.

Converging various security functions into a single, integrated solution offers a more effective and scalable approach to network security. For example, Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) integrates firewall as a service (FWaaS), cloud access security broker (CASB), zero trust network access (ZTNA), and cloud secure web gateway (SWG) into a single cloud-delivered service, enhancing the usability and effectiveness of an organization’s security architecture.

Balancing Security and Business Agility

Security is often seen as a roadblock to business development. Before deploying a new application or server, the organization should also design and implement security controls to protect it against attack. With traditional, appliance-based security solutions, this may require extensive configuration, physical rewiring, or even acquiring new appliances.

However, as security solutions are virtualized and become more intelligent, the complexity of updating security controls to keep pace with network evolution decreases. Modern security solutions can automatically discover new applications or devices and can use AI to define and apply appropriate security controls. This eliminates the potential friction associated with deploying security and enables an organization to take full advantage of cloud flexibility and scalability.

Staying Ahead of Evolving Threats and Attack Vectors

Cybercriminals are constantly improving their techniques to find new ways to target organizations. At the same time, the new software and systems that organizations deploy can introduce new vulnerabilities and attack vectors. As a result, companies may struggle to keep up with the latest security threats and attack campaigns.

Organizations can overcome this challenge by taking advantage of security solutions available under a service-based model. With these offerings, the service provider is responsible for keeping solutions up-to-date to defendagainst the latest threat campaigns.

Communicating the Value to Executive Leadership

Cybersecurity investment provides value to the organization by protecting against expensive cyberattacks or fines for non-compliance. Security teams often struggle to communicate ROI to executive leadership since it is difficult to quantify the cost savings of cyber security solutions. For business leaders, technical details such as blocked network scans or malware infections lack context and a dollar value.

Security teams can overcome this challenge by tracking improvement trends or measuring improvements in efficiency due to security integration. For example, integration may eliminate redundancy for computationally-intensive operations — such as TLS decryption — improving latency and resource utilization. Additionally, industry data can be used to estimate the likely costs and occurrence rates of cyberattacks, enabling security teams to better estimate the ROI of security solutions.

Next Steps

A robust network security architecture is an organization’s first line of defense against most cyberattacks. IT leaders should regularly assess the effectiveness of their security architecture and look for ways to improve its efficiency and threat detection and response capabilities.

One of the most significant challenges that IT and security teams is monitoring and managing a complex network security architecture. Organizations can reduce these difficulties by embracing security convergence, combining multiple security functions into a single platform.

Cato SASE Cloud converges various networking and security features into a single cloud-native service capable of protecting an organization’s entire multi-cloud IT infrastructure. By taking a converged, managed approach to network security, IT leaders simplify security management and ensure that their network security architecture is reliable and provides robust protection against the latest attack campaigns.