What is Microsegmentation?

If a ship has a breach in its hull, the whole vessel will sink, right? Probably not. Modern ships are microsegmented—designed to isolate and compartmentalize damage. 

The same concept can apply to cybersecurity infrastructure. By performing network microsegmentation, your organization can reduce your attack surface and contain a breach. 

But what is microsegmentation? How does it work, and what are its benefits? We’ll break down this cybersecurity principle so you can safeguard your business from internal and external threats. 

What Is Network Microsegmentation?

Microsegmentation is a cybersecurity best practice that goes beyond conventional network and application segmentation strategies. It reduces risk by breaking up data center and cloud environments into more manageable and granular chunks—segments—all the way down to the individual workload level. 

The process results in secure segments where each zone is separate from the rest of your network and various systems. 

Sometimes referred to as host-based or network security segmentation, this framework empowers network administrators to adopt security policies that limit east-west and north-south workload traffic according to concepts like Zero Trust Architecture and the Principle of Least Privilege

What Are Workloads? 

In computing, workloads are the various processes and resources that provide support to an application or interact with it. This broad definition encompasses a wide array of tasks that differ in complexity and purpose. As Tech Target notes: 

“A workload can be a simple alarm clock or contact app running on a smartphone, or a complex enterprise application hosted on one or more servers with thousands of client (user) systems connected and interacting with the application servers across a vast network.”

You can run workloads across on-premise data centers, hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud environments. Since they’re becoming increasingly dynamic, the optimal microsegmentation solution will be built across cloud-native architectures. 

By adopting a nimble storage, hybrid cloud model, organizations can create auto-scaling network enforcement policies and security controls tailored to the specific workloads, not the platforms. 

How Does Microsegmentation Work? 

Microsegmentation is the foundation for a zero-trust security model. It forgoes techniques like hardware configurations and firewalls in favor of software policies that dictate how segments can be accessed, connected to and communicated with—and by whom. 

In short, microsegmentation works by only allowing particular application traffic and denying everything else. There’s no “implicit trust” within each segment until the system’s policy decision point accepts the access request. 

Typically, there are three approaches to microsegmentation: 

  1. Host-agent segmentation places security at the OS level to protect applications. Agents are positioned at endpoints, and all workflows are visible and reported to a central manager.
  1. Hypervisor segmentation places security at the hypervisor level within a virtualized environment. All network traffic flows through the hypervisor device, making it possible to use preexisting firewalls or transition existing policies to the new hypervisor.
  1. Network-based microsegmentation places security at the network level. It uses subnets, virtual local area networks (VLANs) and tagging solutions to set segments and IP constructs to configure and enforce policies.    

Benefits of Microsegmentation 

What can you expect if your organization transitions to a microsegmentation policy? 

Although you must tailor the specific type of microsegmentation and policies to each business, there are common advantages.

Improved Regulatory Compliance 

With the help of microsegmentation, regulatory compliance officers and administrators have granular control over their systems, especially over critical workloads and applications. They can design security policies that isolate systems subject to regulations like PCI DSS and limit traffic according to least privilege and zero trust principles. 

Having this visibility and control over sensitive workloads demonstrates to auditors that you are practicing proper security and data separation. It can also simplify the documentation processes. 

Reduced Attack Surface 

Remember how a ship isolates a hull breach so that water can’t spread to other compartments? 

The same concept applies here. Even if a hacker successfully breaches a single segment, there’s not much they can do since microsegmentation limits their ability to move laterally through a network. Again, this limits the potential damage a bad actor might cause and makes it easier for you to identify, address, and resolve the issue.

Aligned Security Policies with Business Processes  

Although most business applications have common components, such as load balancers, databases, and application servers, each will have unique communication and security requirements. 

The granularity of microsegmentation makes it possible to customize different application processes and workflows according to their particular security stipulations without impacting their ability to communicate. 

Applying Zero Trust Architecture

Adopting a zero trust architecture can become a logistical nightmare for organizations with larger, more complex cybersecurity systems. 

The systems are just too large to overhaul simultaneously. But microsegmentation makes it possible to break up the process into more manageable chunks without jeopardizing your overall cybersecurity perimeter.   

Enables Software-Defined Networking 

Instead of relying on dedicated hardware devices to control traffic, software-defined networking (SDN) takes a virtual approach. But that can only occur via microsegmentation, which allows applications to run in their secured segments behind a virtual machine layered atop the physical network. 

Look To Helixstorm For Managed Security Solutions 

Microsegmentation is an essential security technique organizations can use to limit their attack surface, contain breaches and practice regulatory compliance. But it’s just one piece of the much larger cybersecurity puzzle. 

Need help crafting your own robust cybersecurity policy? 

At Helixstorm, we provide managed network monitoring and maintenance services that empower your organization to detect system vulnerabilities and address them before they can cause problems. 

Our cybersecurity experts will partner with you to customize a managed IT support plan tailored to your business. It will include essential functions like network microsegmentation, next-generation firewalls, security operations center (SOC), penetration testing, and much more. 

If you’re looking for a dedicated IT partner, we’re ready to help. To learn more, contact us today.