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The 5 network security basics you need to know

In this compilation, learn what network security is, as well as how it differs from cybersecurity, common -- and potentially confusing -- technologies, threats and more.

Getting started can be the most tedious part of any task, especially when the task is as daunting and perplexing as network security. But the task is manageable, as long as one understands the topic's basics.

To ensure a network security strategy operates optimally and efficiently, IT pros should start with the basics, such as common challenges, available technologies -- such as firewalls and networks analytics tools -- and the effects of these facets on overall network security. These basics can benefit anyone starting out with network security.

This compilation of network security basics answers five common questions about network security terms, technologies and challenges.

What's the difference between network security versus cybersecurity?

While many network security terms may seem interchangeable, that isn't always the case. Take network security versus cybersecurity, for example, which have several differences, according to Mike Jude, program manager at Frost & Sullivan's Stratecast division.

Network security focuses on securing network infrastructure, such as the network edge, switches, routers and more. On the other hand, cybersecurity encompasses more than just the network space, including subsets like data storage and transportation -- network security is one such subset, Jude said. The two differ mostly in network planning: An organization cannot have a cybersecurity plan without having a network security plan, but network security plans can exist independent of cybersecurity.

Explore more cybersecurity versus network security basics.

What are today's top three network security challenges?

One of today's largest network security challenges is the lack of cybersecurity staff and resources. The cybersecurity skills gap puts organizations more at risk of breaches, said Amy Larsen DeCarlo, principal analyst at Current Analysis. Automating simple tasks, such as patch management, can help lessen this issue, DeCarlo said.

Other challenges include poorly configured firewalls and unmanaged end-user devices, both of which relate back to the skills and resources gap. These challenges stem from the difficulty in managing network access from unauthorized traffic or an endless supply of BYOD clients. IT teams can address these issues with specific policies and proper skill sets.

Learn more about today's top network security threats.

What are the types of network firewalls?

Firewalls monitor inbound and outbound network traffic, and the five types of network firewalls offer various features, capabilities and security controls. Yet those firewalls with more advanced capabilities may negatively affect network performance, because those features may have slower processing times and, therefore, slow the network down, DeCarlo said.

The firewall variations include the following:

  • packet filtering firewalls, which assess router and switch traffic to protect the network perimeter;
  • circuit-level gateways, which track TCP handshakes between packets;
  • stateful inspection firewalls, which evaluate traffic based on security policies and data from previous activity in that connection;
  • application or proxy firewalls, which filter traffic at the application layer; and
  • next-generation firewalls, which blend traditional firewall capabilities with modernized features.

While all firewalls have advantages and disadvantages, IT teams should properly assess their networks and choose the best firewall for their operations. Although some newer firewall types may seem more beneficial, their advanced features aren't always as up-to-speed as traditional capabilities, DeCarlo said.

Read more about the five types of firewalls.

What effect do zero-trust models have on network security?

Zero-trust networks require authentication and authorization processes for any and all clients attempting to access the network. These networks assume all packets are unsafe, according to John Fruehe, an independent analyst. Zero-trust networks give users the minimum amount of network access.

However, this security model can be difficult to achieve, Fruehe said, as the security is always on guard and must continuously explain each facet of the security system for all inside and outside traffic. But once the zero-trust network exists, it can identify a security model's pitfalls or weaknesses.

Dive further into zero-trust network security basics.

How do network traffic analytics fit into network security basics?

The network traffic analytics tool applies machine learning, heuristics and other concepts to identify potential bad actors that IT teams might miss. These tools provide a more holistic view of the network in near real time, according to DeCarlo. Network traffic analytics can show common occurrences so potential threats become easier to spot in the future.

Real-time threat identification can give clearer insight into network activity so network teams can immediately ensure their network's safety. These analytics tools can also work with incident response services to lessen potential threats, DeCarlo said.

See more information on traffic analytics for network security.

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