What Are Network Security Solutions?
A network security solution is a platform or set of tools that can help secure computer networks and prevent cyber attacks. Different solutions focus on securing different aspects of the network and leverage different technological approaches to preventing the infiltration of unauthorized persons or entities.
Some network security solutions emphasize the external security perimeter, while others restrict internal activity to protect the network from inside. Advanced solutions offer visibility and control over network traffic, allowing organizations to prevent, identify, block, and remediate network threats, including insider threats.
One challenge for network security is to balance ease of use and business continuity needs with stringent security requirements. Organizations may choose a solution, or combine several solutions, to meet internal security policy requirements and comply with industry standards and regulations.
To better understand the need for network security solutions, read our guide to network security threats.
Types of Network Security Solutions and Technologies
Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFW)
A firewall is a mechanism that controls outbound and inbound network traffic according to pre-configured rules. A firewall deployed at the network edge establishes a network perimeter that attempts to block unauthorized external access to resources inside the perimeter.
A traditional firewall performs stateful inspection at layers three and four of the open systems interconnection (OSI) network model. It inspects the destination and source IP and the protocol and port of data packets, to determine whether to grant or deny access.
A next-generation firewall (NGFW) operates at layer seven—the application layer—of the OSI network model. It detects and blocks malicious application traffic by performing deep packet inspection (DPI) and blocking packets according to the destination application.
Network Access Control (NAC)
NAC is a network administration solution that controls which devices can connect to a corporate network. It identifies devices either using MAC addresses or certificates, and only enables connectivity for approved devices.
NAC is effective as a security control in a traditional network perimeter, accessed only by managed devices from an office location. It is less suitable for a modern IT environment with remote access, personal devices accessing the network, and connections to and from resources in the public cloud, because these external resources are not visible to the NAC and thus cannot be controlled.
Remote Access VPN
A remote access virtual private network (VPN) provides secure network access to individual clients or hosts, such as mobile users, extranet consumers, and telecommuters. A remote access VPN may provide hosts with VPN client software or offer a web-based client.
A remote access VPN offers various mechanisms to maintain the integrity and privacy of sensitive data. Common mechanisms include data encryption and multi-factor authentication (MFA). However, VPNs are no longer considered secure in modern distributed IT environments, because they grant access to the entire network and do not allow granular network permissions.
Network segmentation involves breaking the network into smaller segments consisting of common functions, risks, or organizational roles. A perimeter gateway, for example, segments a corporate network from the Internet. It blocks external threats to sensitive data within the segment. Network segmentation can also help segment areas within the network to improve access control and security.
Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)
IPS technology helps detect and prevent various network security attacks, such as vulnerability exploitation, Denial of Service (DoS), and brute force attacks. Hackers may use a vulnerability (a weakness) to attack a device, system, or network.
Threat actors often have time to exploit a vulnerability even after it is detected or announced. It usually occurs between the announcement and the release of a patch. An IPS-as-a-Service can help block these attacks quickly.
Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)
A zero trust security approach ensures that each user only receives the necessary access privileges—there is no implicit trust. Organizations use ZTNA solutions to implement zero trust by creating micro-perimeters around each resource or application in the network, enabling granular access control.
Users connect to the network via ZTNA, which uses multi-factor authentication (MFA) to verify user identity and endpoint compliance scanning. The ZTNA solution assesses various parameters to determine if the requested action should be allowed, considering factors such as time, location, device, etc.
Administrators define access rules, and ZTNA implements these rules by vetting all connection requests. This approach prevents the unnecessary exposure of sensitive systems and data and minimizes network risks.
Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)
Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) is an enterprise networking category introduced by Gartner, which aims to simplify enterprise networking in a distributed IT environment. SASE is a unified, cloud-native networking service that includes SD-WAN and network security solutions such as firewall as a service (FWaaS), cloud security access broker (CASB), secure web gateway (SWG), and zero trust network access (ZTNA).
In the past, organizations found it difficult to integrate these multiple point solutions, operate them across hybrid and multi cloud environments, and manage security operations across silos. With SASE, organizations can simplify operations, reduce costs, and support agile development. This reduces time to market and enables organizations to respond to changing business conditions and market conditions.
Considerations for Evaluating Network Security Solutions
When comparing network security solutions, it is important to evaluate the vendors and offerings based on the following criteria:
Cost is often the main determinant when selecting a security solution. It is preferable to approach budgetary constraints positively (i.e., how to cover as many security priorities affordably) rather than simply choosing the cheapest option that covers the organization’s minimum requirements. Cost assessments should also consider ongoing maintenance and administration costs.
Each solution offers a different level of security. The appropriate tools for the intended use case depends on the following considerations:
- The assets requiring protection—the first step is to understand which assets require protection (i.e., a network segment, database, or entire network).
- Asset-specific risks—after establishing the priorities for protecting assets, it is important to assess the risks to each asset and the potential impact of a compromise.
- The security solution’s performance—this step requires understanding how the solution can mitigate the risks and perform in the real world. Understanding the technology is key to evaluating its effectiveness.
Features and Functions
A network security solution must provide the required functions and features for the intended use case. Functional considerations include:
- Features—when comparing different solutions, it may be useful to list and compare the features they offer. Organizations should prioritize the most critical features and choose a solution accordingly (in keeping with budgetary restraints).
- Flexibility and extensibility—this is important for allowing growth and adopting change. Modern enterprises generally undergo frequent changes and require modifying or adding functions.
- Performance—organizations often prioritize performance, looking for low-latency and high-throughput tools. It is also important to consider the aggregate effect of various features, tools and procedures on speed and performance.
- Manageability—complexity makes it harder to maintain security, especially in management. Consolidation and user-friendly management features can increase productivity and ensure smoother workflows.