Network security is the strategic combination of hardware and software designed to protect sensitive data in a computer network. Network access controls, intrusion detection, and many other types of network security functions work together to secure the environment against unauthorized access, data breaches, malware delivery, and other cyberattacks.
Network-based security has evolved as more network traffic traverses the internet rather than staying within a local network infrastructure. Today’s stack is in a security gateway, which monitors traffic moving to and from the internet. It includes an array of firewalls, intrusion prevention systems (IPS), sandboxes, URL filters, DNS filters, antivirus technology, data loss prevention (DLP) systems, and more that work together to keep external attacks from reaching data and intellectual property inside a network.
Why Is Network Security Important?
Advanced network security solutions offer a more agile security approach in a world dominated by the cloud. Previously, many enterprises took the old “castle and moat” approach, using a firewall to provide perimeter-style security to a central corporate system. Herein, layers of defenses were built to prevent cybercriminals from breaching the perimeter, and if one layer fell, another was in place behind it.
This worked well back when IT infrastructure was hosted on-site in a single server, but as employees became more mobile, they needed to be able to access systems and data from many different locations. This gave rise to virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow remote users to access the internal network. We’ll look at VPNs again in the next section.
In the age of the cloud, the cyberthreat landscape and the needs of modern organizations have changed. With more frequent and sophisticated attacks, more stringent regulations, and far more data to process and secure, older models often can’t provide the agility, flexibility, and more advanced protection needed today.
What Types of Threats Does Network Security Prevent?
The variety of network security tools on the market speaks to the breadth of the threat landscape. There are countless solutions designed to stop malware (e.g., spyware, ransomware, trojans), phishing, and other such threats.
The key thing to note about legacy network security solutions ties back to the “castle and moat” approach—they’re largely built to protect networks against malicious activities from outside, with far less ability to protect from inside. We’ll take a closer look at that shortly.
Network and network security architectures were designed for an era that is waning, and they are unable to effectively serve the dynamic secure access requirements of digital business.
Gartner, The Future of Network Security Is in the Cloud
Challenges of Traditional Network Security
The explosion of cloud applications has made things difficult for traditional network security models. As users spend more time outside the office and access third-party apps that no longer reside in the data center, the network no longer carries an organization’s full weight—yet traditional network security still revolves around the data center.
Modern organizations need modern cybersecurity to protect their users, data, and endpoints.
Legacy security approaches employ “backhauling” to secure remote traffic, where traffic is routed across the internet and through the security stack in a centralized data center. Today, though, with a higher volume of internet traffic overall traveling greater distances, backhauling has become shorthand for high latency and poor user experience.
The legacy “data center as the center of the universe” network and network security architecture is obsolete and has become an inhibitor to the needs of digital business.
Gartner, The Future of Network Security Is in the Cloud
Shortcomings of Legacy VPNs
Much of the trouble with traditional network security lies in inefficient and insecure VPN infrastructure, because:
VPNs don’t scale well. Hardware-based VPNs need to be manually configured, and their bandwidth caps tend to necessitate redundant deployments. Software-based VPNs need to be deployed on every user device, limiting the ways users can work.
VPNs don’t do security. Because VPNs don’t enforce security controls, the traffic traversing them needs to pass through a security stack for filtering and inspection, forcing many organizations to backhaul traffic to a data center.
VPNs don’t do zero trust. After authentication through a VPN, a user is on the network. From there, a hacker or malicious insider can move laterally to access sensitive information or exploit vulnerabilities that aren’t protected from the inside.
Risk of Lateral Movement
Lateral threat movement is one of the biggest risks organizations face today. Traditional firewalls and VPNs connect users directly to the network for access to apps and data, and users on the “secure network” are granted broad access to the environment. Because of this, if a user or workload is compromised, security threats can spread across the environment very quickly.
Today’s most effective strategies invariably focus on zero trust, a security framework that asserts that no user or application should be trusted by default. Following a fundamental zero trust principle, least-privileged access, trust is established based on context such as a user’s identity and location, the security posture of the endpoint, and the app or service being requested, with policy checks at each step.
From Network Security to Cloud Security
As organizations get accustomed to hybrid workforce models and cloud adoption becomes the norm, it becomes clearer that an old-fashioned firewall approach is too slow for the cloud and zero trust.
Instead, you need a modern, digital-first solution tailored for the era of the cloud and mobility—a cloud-based security solution that decouples security from the network, with policies enforced anywhere apps reside and everywhere users connect.
Moving security off the network and into the cloud effectively places the full network security stack everywhere your users go. Protections are applied consistently, offering the exact same security measures in branch offices, users’ homes, airport terminals, or corporate headquarters.
Compared to traditional network security, the ideal cloud-based security solution provides:
Faster user experience: User traffic takes the shortest path to any app or internet destination.
Superior security: All internet traffic, including encrypted traffic, is inspected, with threat data correlated in real time.
Reduced costs: The need to constantly buy and maintain appliances disappears because cloud infrastructure is continually updated.
Easier management: A solution delivered as a service reduces the complexity of managing multiple devices.
Moving to a complete cloud-delivered security stack ensures your users can enjoy fast, safe, policy-based access to third-party and private applications. Be wary though—many security companies advertise cloud-delivered, cloud-ready solutions, but these tend to be retrofitted, virtualized legacy appliances. Only Zscaler offers security built in the cloud, for the cloud.
Secure Your Network with Zscaler
The Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange™ platform enables fast, secure connections and allows your employees to work from anywhere, using the internet as the corporate network. Based on the zero trust principle of least-privileged access, it provides comprehensive security with context-based identity and policy enforcement.
The platform operates across more than 150 data centers worldwide, collocated with applications and cloud providers such as Microsoft 365 and AWS, ensuring services are delivered as close as possible to your users, optimizing both security and user experience.
Secure Private App Access
Part of the Zero Trust Exchange and the world’s most deployed zero trust network access (ZTNA) solution, Zscaler Private Access™ gives users secure, direct connectivity to private apps while eliminating unauthorized access and lateral movement. ZPA can be deployed in hours to replace legacy VPNs and remote access tools with a holistic zero trust platform that enables you to:
Minimize your attack surface. Make apps invisible to the open internet and impossible for cybercriminals to breach.
Eliminate lateral movement. Segment apps, not your network, to enforce least-privileged access without network access.
Stop compromised users and mitigate risk. Prevent app exploitation, find active attackers and threats, and prevent data loss.
Secure Internet and SaaS Access
Zscaler Internet Access™ is a cloud native security service edge (SSE) solution that leverages the scale and agility of the world’s largest security cloud, backed by threat intelligence from hundreds of trillions of daily signals. It replaces legacy network security solutions to stop advanced attacks and prevent data loss with a comprehensive zero trust approach, enabling you to:
Consistently secure your hybrid workforce. Get context-based, always-on protection for all users, apps, and devices with security policies that follow your users everywhere they go.
Enjoy fast access with zero infrastructure. Eliminate backhauling, boost performance and user experience, and simplify administration with a direct-to-cloud architecture.
Take advantage of AI-powered protection. Stop ransomware, zero-day malware, and advanced attacks with full inline inspection and a suite of AI-powered cloud security services.