NetSecOps best practices for network engineers

Network engineers increasingly need to align their duties with security, such as implementing continuous monitoring, deploying threat intelligence and collaborating with security.

DevOps adoption has come a long way since the term was first coined in 2009. Since then, DevOps has guided industry trends such as machine learning operations, ChatOps, NetOps and NetSecOps.

DevOps culture reduces blame games in work environments, encouraging network engineers, developers and all stakeholders to work together by learning, sharing and collaborating. One approach that has emerged from this culture is NetSecOps.

NetSecOps is a term used to explain the integration of workflows for networking and security teams. These teams used to work as a united team years ago, but as networks scaled and infrastructures became difficult to manage, enterprises needed specialized departments.

However, the disruption of cloud computing has compelled networking and security teams to work together again. The loss of network visibility is a huge concern, and businesses implementing a cloud-based system require strong security to maintain their reputation in a competitive digital society.

What are NetSecOps best practices?

The primary objective of NetSecOps is to enhance network security and operations for comprehensive protection and resilience. Let's discover the steps network engineers can take to improve their NetSecOps initiatives.

1. Implement continuous monitoring

Continuous monitoring is critical in NetSecOps. It enables network engineers to identify and thwart security threats quickly and carefully.

Here are some steps for implementing continuous monitoring in a NetSecOps strategy:

  • Choose tools that suit team needs. These tools likely include intrusion detection systems and intrusion prevention systems (IDS/IPS) to detect and block suspicious traffic.
  • Deploy security information and event management (SIEM). SIEM tools collect and analyze security events in the network.
  • Use network monitoring tools. These tools monitor network performance and health. Some well-known ones include Datadog, Nagios and SolarWinds.
  • Use vulnerability scanning. Vulnerability scanning helps identify vulnerabilities in the network devices and software that serve users daily. Some common tools are Microsoft Defender Vulnerability Management, Nmap and PingSafe.
  • Automate tasks. It's paramount to automate tasks, and some tools can be automated to collect, analyze and generate data. Automation helps give network engineers more time to focus on other tasks.
  • Adopt AI and machine learning (ML). Tools that use AI and ML can help identify and respond to security threats without human intervention.

2. Integrate efficient threat intelligence

Cyber threats can happen anytime. It's crucial for NetSecOps teams to stay ahead of cybercriminals and implement threat intelligence.

Here are some steps to get started with threat intelligence:

  • Define objectives and goals. Network engineers need a clear goal for using threat intelligence. Determine which types of intelligence the business needs, suitable tools and how to measure success.
  • Choose a suitable threat intelligence tool. The tool must be relevant to the company. Also, consider whether to opt for open source or commercial threat intelligence.
  • Integrate threat intelligence with security tools and systems. These tools integrate with SIEM, security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR), network monitoring tools and endpoint security.
  • Develop playbooks and response procedures. Build playbooks and procedures that are based on specific threat scenarios and intelligence indicators. The playbooks should set roles and responsibilities for various teams involved in incident response.

3. Use automated incident response mechanisms

Cyber threats happen, and agility helps protect devices and data. Automation is an ally to network engineers for faster and more precise responses to security incidents.

Here are best practices for incorporating automation into incident response:

  • Develop a clear incident response plan. Design the workflows to respond to security incidents. Define the roles and responsibilities, and how automated incident response should interact with human responders.
  • Prioritize incidents to automate. Always prioritize high-volume traffic for automation. Automated incident response can easily handle low-level traffic, but network engineers will still have tasks to do, regardless of the level of automation.
  • Use threat intelligence feeds. Track industry news, known threats and indicators of compromise to improve detection accuracy.
  • Train and educate teams. The security team should learn how to understand automated incident response and efficient collaboration.

4. Collaborate among different teams

Modern engineering teams work together to share knowledge and expertise. This improves collaboration and reduces siloed teams that were common a few years ago.

Here are steps to improve team collaboration:

  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities. Assign tasks to each team and define who is going to achieve them among different teams and departments. This process improves decision-making when things don't work as expected.
  • Foster communication and transparency. Communication is crucial for teams to perform better. Schedule regular meetings, set up a knowledge management system and use collaboration tools, such as Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
  • Encourage cross-functional collaboration. Stakeholders from the IT operations teams to compliance should be active in NetSecOps.
  • Measure what the team does. It's difficult to improve performance if it isn't measured. Use different KPI metrics to improve collaboration, communication effectiveness and incident resolution rates.

5. Develop comprehensive incident response protocols

One of the best ways for companies to mitigate threats is to set up incident response protocols.

Here are the best practices to do so:

  • Assign roles and responsibilities. Again, identify stakeholders in the incident response processes and assign clear roles and responsibilities. Security is everyone's responsibility.
  • Build a clear incident response plan. This plan is like a map that shows where the company is and where to go in case of a problem. Outline all the steps stakeholders should take once an incident happens.
  • Test and simulate. Test the incident response plan through simulated exercises to discover potential gaps. Remind everyone what their responsibilities are in the team.
  • Foster security awareness. Train all employees about cybersecurity best practices and how to identify and report suspicious activities. An awareness culture helps make companies resilient.

6. Enhance team skill sets

The cybersecurity landscape changes all the time. Trends come and go, and bad attackers develop new techniques to take advantage of companies. It's paramount for NetSecOps teams to update their skills and keep pace with the industry.

Here are some steps to help build team skill sets:

  • Foster a continuous learning culture.
  • Invest time in hands-on experience.
  • Learn to communicate and collaborate.
  • Encourage the use of automation.

From a technical perspective, the following skill sets are helpful in a NetSecOps team:

  • Networking. It's important for NetSecOps professionals to have a strong understanding of networking fundamentals, such as TCP/IP, routing and switching, firewalls and IPS/IDS.
  • Security. A thorough understanding of security concepts is crucial, such as vulnerabilities, threats, access control, cryptography, vulnerability scanning and patching.
  • Scripting. It's helpful to know scripting languages, such as Python, to automate daily routine tasks.
  • Cloud security. Companies are moving their workloads to the cloud, and NetSecOps professionals need to understand cloud security best practices. Related skills include data encryption, shared responsibility model and identity access management.

The networking industry changes all the time with trends and disruptions, so it's important to remain a lifelong learner.

Verlaine Muhungu is a self-taught freelance network technician. He was recognized as a Cisco top talent in sub-Saharan Africa during the 2016 NetRiders IT Skills Competition.

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