Visibility is key to network security

A recent survey found 81% of IT leaders believe network visibility is essential for strong network security and response.

The survey, conducted by Forrester on behalf of Infoblox, reached 423 IT leaders worldwide across a range of industries.

According to respondents, improved security and response is the most significant benefit of network visibility, followed by network performance (76%) and operational efficiency (72%). We’ve written in the past about the broader benefits of strong network traffic visibility—in this article, we’ll focus exclusively on security advantages.

Why is Visibility so Important for Network Security?

Network visibility enables network and security teams to monitor and analyse network traffic in real-time and take appropriate actions. Typically, organisations use a network monitoring tool—either open source or premium—to provide a detailed, real-time picture of incoming and outgoing traffic.

These tools support a range of IT and security functions, from ensuring efficient network operations to promptly identifying security threats for remediation.

On the surface, the role of visibility in network security seems obvious—you can’t secure what you can’t see. If you can’t observe precisely what is connected to a network and how traffic flows around it, your chance of detecting security weaknesses and threats is severely limited.

The Forrester survey report notes: “Poor network visibility impedes security response and capabilities. Without clear visibility, leaders struggle to know what is on their network, manage capacity, and identify tools at their disposal.”

There’s nothing groundbreaking or surprising here—most IT leaders are already aware that a lack of network visibility is holding them back. The report goes on to note that the vast majority (97%) of IT leaders have already invested in network visibility tools OR are planning to invest within the next three years—while 61% believe their organisation should invest more heavily in this area.

The question we need to ask is why network visibility is so important. Simply observing network activity has value, but in isolation, it does very little to improve network security. To achieve the desired outcome, something more is needed.

Network Visibility Informs Action

As with any aspect of security, monitoring and detection are just one part of the equation. The other is fast, effective response.

Whether your responses are automated or require human intervention, a prompt response using an appropriate mitigation strategy is essential to quickly control a threat. For example:

  • DDoS attacks that trigger detection rules in a network monitoring tool may be mitigated automatically.
  • DDoS attacks that evade detection rules may be identified by human analysts and require manual mitigation.

In both cases, the DDoS mitigation strategy may be the same (e.g., BGP blackholing or Flowspec), but the path to get there is either machine-led or human-led. This requires a combination of powerful tooling and best-practice human processes to ensure threats are identified and resolved quickly and appropriately every time.

Unfortunately, this is where security and network teams often face a significant challenge. In many cases, the ability to take proactive action to reduce security risk is hindered by a lack of technology and process integration.

Integration of Tools and Processes Supports Action

It’s simply not possible for humans to monitor traffic in real-time—and with security incidents, time is of the essence. To detect security threats such as DDoS attacks or the presence of malicious actors inside a network, organisations need to take advantage of automated detection and response.

However, automated detection and response are only possible if two things are in place:

  1. A powerful network monitoring tool that supports rules-based detection and automation.
  2. Broad integrations with network equipment, security tools, and mitigation strategies.

Today, many organisations lack these two critical components of a strong network security program. According to the Forrester survey, the top challenges for network and security teams are:

  • Lack of automation (58%)
  • Siloed tools/technologies (54%)
  • Lack of skilled workers (50%)
  • Insufficient network visibility (47%)

Three of the top four challenges relate to a lack of suitable technology infrastructure to support effective network security and management. Still, simply purchasing better tools is not the full solution. To fully leverage even the strongest tools, organisations also need to ensure network and security teams have processes and communication channels in place that allow them to cooperate on both routine and emergency duties.

These needs are reflected in the results of the Forrester survey. IT leaders highlighted integration of tools and technologies, cooperation between network and security teams, and improved culture as the top changes required to improve collaboration and maximise network security benefits.

As the report puts it:

“If organisational barriers segment and silo these teams, a holistically sound security approach is impossible. If done right, an integrated approach can foster benefits, including better performance and capacity planning, reduced costs, and device discovery. In short, with integration comes visibility.”

Protect Your Organisation with FastNetMon

FastNetMon combines powerful network monitoring capabilities with the industry’s fastest and most reliable DDoS detection and mitigation capabilities. Supporting input methods such as NetFlow, IPFIX, port mirror, SPAN, and sFlow traffic monitoring, FastNetMon can help your organisation detect even the most sophisticated DDoS attacks.

FastNetMon captures network activity in real time and allows network and security teams to set granular, dynamic policies for detection and mitigation. To protect against the most advanced attacks, FastNetMon can be configured to automatically switch between mitigation strategies throughout an attack to match changes in attack volume and vectors.

Integrating seamlessly with all your network hardware, mitigation controls, and analytics, FastNetMon adapts to your network—you can even write custom detection rules and deploy them instantly across your network.

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