6 Network Security Threats and What You Can Do About Them

What Are Network Security Threats?

Network security is the practice of protecting corporate networks from intrusions and data breaches. Common network security threats include social engineering attacks aimed at stealing user credentials, denial of service (DoS) attacks that can overwhelm network resources, and malware used by attackers to establish a persistent hold on the network.

In a modern IT environment, network threats can originate from automated mechanisms like bots, sophisticated attacks known as advanced persistent threats (APT), malicious insiders, and third party vendors whose systems were compromised by attackers.

To protect against these threats, organizations use a variety of strategies, including defensive tools like next generation firewalls (NGFW), network segmentation which can isolate sensitive resources and prevent lateral movement, and incident response processes that enable rapid and effective response when attacks occur.

6 Critical Network Security Threats

Social Engineering

Social engineering attacks rely on manipulating human emotion to gain unauthorized network access. Attackers send messages that arouse curiosity, fear, or other emotions, and trick the user into deploying malware or divulging their network credentials. Common types of social engineering attacks include phishing, baiting, tailgating, and pretexting.

DDoS Attacks

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack leverages a botnet controlled by the attacker, which may consist of thousands or millions of machines, to flood networks with fake traffic. Sometimes, the goal of a DDoS attack is to distract IT and security teams, while attackers are conducting a primary attack.

Large-scale DDoS attacks are impossible to withstand using on-premises security tools, and the most effective defense is third-party DDoS mitigation solutions that operate at cloud scale.

Insider Threats

Insider threats might be malicious insiders motivated by vengeance or financial gain, compromised accounts, or negligent insiders who violate security policies. Insider threats are difficult to detect with traditional security tools, and because insiders have privileged access to sensitive systems, can be very dangerous. A key strategy for combating insider threats is zero trust security, which ensures every user has least privileges, and continuously verifies and authenticates all connection requests.

Malware

Malware is malicious software that can spread across computer systems, and can be used to compromise a device or cause damage to data and systems. An especially damaging form of malware is ransomware, which encrypts data, making it unusable to its owners.

Malware is commonly used by attackers to establish and deepen their hold on compromised systems in a corporate network. Its primary distribution vectors are email, malicious links, and compromised websites.

Third-Party Vendors

Most organizations make use of third-party vendors, and commonly give these vendors access to critical systems. Several global security incidents were due to compromise of high-profile suppliers, which were used by some of the world’s leading organizations.

It is critical for organizations to establish a third-party risk management program. As part of this program, they should gain visibility over their suppliers’ security practices, and limit supplier privileges to the minimum possible.

Advanced Persistent Threats (APT)

APTs are organized attackers, sometimes operated by groups of hackers, who launch sophisticated, highly evasive attacks against an organization.

APTs typically use multi-stage attacks with several attack vectors (such as social engineering, malware, and vulnerability exploitation) to penetrate a network, get around security defenses, and avoid detection. They might dwell in the network for months or years, slowly gaining access to valuable assets and stealing sensitive data.

Zero trust, next generation firewalls (NGFW), and advanced threat detection solutions like XDR, can all help mitigate the APT threat.

Network Security Best Practices

There is no one approach to address all the critical threats we presented above. However, the following network security practices can help prevent many of these threats, and help detect and mitigate them if an attack occurs.

Use a Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW)

Traditional firewalls inspect the state of network traffic, blocking or allowing traffic according to rules and filters defined by the administrator. NGFWs provide all the functionalities of a regular firewall and more, enabling deep packet inspection (DPI) and blocking application-based threats.

For a firewall to qualify as a next-generation firewall (according to the Gartner definition), it must provide:

  • Stateful inspection and other standard firewall functionalities
  • Threat intelligence from various sources
  • Application control and visibility to identify and block applications that present a risk
  • An intrusion prevention system
  • Adaptable capabilities to handle evolving cyber threats
  • Upgrade paths for future threat intelligence feeds

Implement Network Segmentation and Segregation Strategies

Managing security for a large unsegmented network can be a complex task. Such tasks might include defining firewall rules and successfully handling traffic flow.

You can make management easier by segmenting your network into small chunks and creating different trust zones. This approach can also ensure networks are isolated if a security incident occurs, limiting the impact and risk of a network intrusion.

An unsegmented network presents attackers a greater attack surface. Attackers can then move laterally through the network and access business-critical information. A breach like this can bypass detection in a large scale network. Enforcing network segregation and segmentation gives your organization control over how traffic travels within your environment.

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Conduct Third-Party Vendor Assessment

In some cases, you may have to work with third-party contractors. When you give third-party vendors access to your organization’s network, it affects the security of your organization. In essence, your network is only as secure as your vendors.

Ensure you evaluate the security posture of any third-party vendors according to the level of access they need. Select vendors with strong security practices and appropriate compliance certifications, and be sure to revoke access as soon as a contractor is no longer working on your systems.

Establish an Incident Management Plan

An incident management plan guides you through the entire process of cyber incident management, from the time of the incident through to returning to normal operations. It defines roles and responsibilities, establishes procedures and communication channels, and establishes an organizational structure for rapid response to incidents.

The incident response process is initiated when a security breach is identified via network security monitoring. The incident response team escalates the incident to the right teams and efficiently resolves the incident. After resolving the situation, the next step is to restore and recover systems to their correct functioning. A business continuity / disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan can help ensure the availability of your network and related systems even in case of a disaster or severe cyber attack.