Understanding Network Security

In modern fast-changing data center environments cyber-security represents a crucial aspect that unfortunately is not always top-of-mind for IT professionals. Instead, it’s oftentimes an afterthought. 

As a consequence, cyber-security may be overlooked in the list of key investments to be budgeted to improve infrastructure and service resiliency. 

The network infrastructure is often a prime target for malicious attacks because of the possibility of inflicting the most damage to as many devices as possible. Other reasons to target the network may be to attempt to redirect and snoop traffic to learn about clear-text information and find out possible other weaknesses that can lead to further malicious actions. 

Both Internet- and Intranet-facing networks are vulnerable to malicious attacks, from internal and external sources. The news media provide ample documentary evidence about the nefarious effects of cyber-attacks on networks, servers and end-stations, oftentimes facilitated by well-known vulnerabilities left unpatched and exploitable. The total costs of such neglected vulnerabilities are in the millions of dollars on average, reaching in the billions in the case of the most widespread attacks. 

As a general best practice, security should be considered an indispensable day-one foundational component for any IT architecture, meant to secure data and user access end-to-end and thus protect systems from tampering and unauthorized access. 

Therefore, the network plays a critical role with regard to the hardening of the overall IT infrastructure, which is a complex system based on a multitude of interconnected sub-systems. Such complex system is only as robust as its weakest element or link, wherever that may be located. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, it’s usually not sufficient to just secure any one individual component or even a limited portion of the network topology (for example, its perimeter) to achieve optimal security. 

For instance, in case of enterprise networks, firewalls are very powerful security devices that are commonly deployed to harden the network’s perimeter. However, many serious security breaches oftentimes come from within the network, after getting past the firewalls. Even the addition of sophisticated intrusion detection systems (IDS) may not completely avert those exploits that leverage the weakest components of the system. 

In the following, we will describe a number of powerful networking technologies that can be employed to implement advanced end-to-end security measures so as to protect all nodes and interconnections from internal and external attacks.