rvlsoft - Fotolia

Network security management best practices and challenges

The rise of distributed networks, mobile devices and cyber threats has spurred the ongoing convergence of network management and network security processes.

Enterprise networks have been changing for decades, shifting from a centralized model where all resources were protected by a perimeter to the virtualized and highly distributed environments of today. The advance of mobile technology and the omnipresence of BYOD models have made organizations more flexible and efficient. But these devices have added a layer of risk for resource-constrained security teams to combat.

At the same time, the cyber threat environment has become even more dangerous. Cyber attacks were up 38% in 2022 over the previous year, according to research from the security vendor Check Point. This alarming rise in cyber attacks is driving the need to better integrate security with network management.

Advances in network monitoring and threat intelligence that apply machine learning to expedite threat identification and improve accuracy are yielding results. Network administrators are also looking to resolve vulnerabilities faster and become more proactive in their work.

In recent years, more work has been done to integrate security controls into the network through concepts such as Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and zero trust. SASE products include software-defined WAN gear, cloud access security brokers, next-generation firewall as a service, secure web gateways and zero-trust network access.

More broadly, as a model, zero-trust architecture treats any entity trying to access an enterprise resource as an untrusted source. Zero-trust architecture uses multiple layers of security controls to authenticate, validate and continuously verify any device or user. However, zero trust recognizes that breaches can happen in even the most secure infrastructures, but it puts measures in place to limit the fallout from an incident.

What is network security management?

Effective network security management is a foundational element of a successful defense. At a high level, network security management aims to maintain the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the infrastructure in order to safeguard all assets connected to and through it.

Network security management uses a mix of policies, processes and technology to protect infrastructure resources. Key technology elements include VPNs, firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, network access control, and security information and event management services. DDoS protection tools are also an important part of a successful network defense.

The challenges of network security management

But managing all these pieces is a steep challenge. Network administrators struggle to correlate information from multiple sources. Integration among products that are supposed to work together is often lacking.

Too often, security teams are overwhelmed by the volume of alerts, often missing an incident for days or longer because it was drowned out by a sea of false positives. Also, security staffing shortages and a lack of other resources plague too many organizations.

Enterprises are also facing a worsening threat environment, with emboldened cybercriminals using a variety of tools to get past network protections. Overwhelmed and overworked security teams are seeing the volume of cyber threats soar -- including phishing attacks and ransomware -- while they look to contain the damage.

The human element is key to fortifying the network.

Network security management best practices

The human element is key to fortifying the network. Strong network security requires solid best practices carried out by both IT teams and the end users they support. This starts with knowing the network and what defenses are in place. Where are the gaps, and how is the organization going to address them?

Other essential best practices include the following:

  • Employ effective policy development, communication and execution.
  • Implement network segregation.
  • Develop and deploy a zero-trust architecture and mindset of continuous verification.
  • Employ automation in workflow and incident response when possible.
  • Take steps to prevent insider theft or data loss.
  • Establish a strong end-user education program.
  • Recognize what baseline network activity looks like.
  • Proactively test systems to uncover vulnerabilities and poor configuration.
  • Have an effective networking monitoring service in place.

Network security management relies on all these pieces. Having a service to centrally monitor and manage the security infrastructure can be the difference between success and failure.

Unfortunately, many organizations don't have the internal resources to put the necessary technology and human elements in place. Many organizations turn to outside managed security service providers and technology vendors to augment their internal resources. Many of these outsourced entities offer services that IT staff can use to consolidate data from multiple sources and alert security teams to critical issues.

Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect the tighter and ongoing integration between network management and network security.

Next Steps

Zero-trust security model primer: What, why and how

Cloud, security and automation alter networking roles

GSK unifies networking and security for cloud migration

Dig Deeper on Network management and monitoring

Unified Communications
Mobile Computing
Data Center