Microsegmentation: Build Secure Zones in Your Virtualized Environment

Microsegmentation is a technique that allows applications to run in their own secure zones behind your virtualized network environment. With a software-only approach to security, microsegmentation does away with the need for a hardware-based firewall. As it sets and enforces security policies down to the workload and process levels, microsegmentation makes security persistent even in the case of network migration or reconfiguration.

What is Microsegmentation?

Microsegmentation is a major selling point of network virtualization, which abstracts networking services via a logical virtual network that runs on top of the traditional physical network. Microsegmentation’s emphasis on isolation means that any restructuring in the physical networks running behind data centers and cloud environments does not impact virtualized workloads, allowing them to run as their security policies remain intact. Even if the workloads are moved between domains, security policies remain in place. This persistent security is a major characteristic, and advantage, of microsegmentation.

In a traditional network, security is tied to the hardware, from the firewall down to individual workstations. Operationally, security is implemented in between servers and clients accessing them. In case of changes in the network, security policies need to be reconfigured. Otherwise, security may break down and the network compromised. Moreover, in cases of security breaches in the network, the potential for widespread damage is amplified due to homogeneous security zones. The above shortcomings explain why traditional network architecture often does not work well in data center environments and cloud platforms.

How is Security Configured with Microsegmentation?

microsegmentationWith microsegmentation, security is configured based on applications and their workloads, where these workloads are used, and the data these workloads need access to. Security policies can be set in such a way that anytime a workload tries to run contrary to the rules set forth in the policy, its network access is shut down. This same capability can be extended down to the process level, allowing for even more granularity in network security. Operationally, microsegmentation works best for traffic flowing between server to server and the applications that access them. This makes it ideal for data centers and cloud platforms.

Ensure that your organization is not tied to any specific vendor when implementing microsegmentation. Your approach should work across physical servers, virtual machines, and cloud providers, regardless of vendor. By ensuring platform independence, when your organization expands its network, integration with other vendors becomes easier.

Use Cases for Microsegmentation

Microsegmentation is useful for security and compliance-minded organizations, general development and production systems. The use cases are mentioned below:

Security for soft assets

Soft assets like customer information, employee information, financial data and intellectual property need to be secured. Microsegmentation offers an additional layer of security that guards soft assets against malicious actions and exfiltration.

Development and production systems

Separating development and test environments does not necessarily prevent careless activities like developers taking customer information from production databases. Microsegmentation makes a disciplined separation, by limiting the connectivity between development and test environments.

Incident response

Microsegmentation also prevents the movement of threats between segments and offers log information. This makes it a perfect solution for incident response and pinpoints security issues.

Hybrid cloud management

Microsegmentation also protects applications that span through multiple hybrid cloud deployments by allowing you to implement uniform security policies across multiple data centers and service providers.

PCI compliance

Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance requires organizations to handle credit card information securely, thus reducing data breaches of sensitive cardholder information. Network segmentation is the way to go about it, making PCI compliance a good use case.

Healthcare organizations

Healthcare organizations should protect Personal Health Information (PHI) to comply with cybersecurity compliance frameworks and key security controls are a way to do that. Microsegmentation, accurate mapping, isolation of sensitive systems and network connection control helps achieve the objective of healthcare-related compliance.

Differences between Microsegmentation and Network Segmentation

As data centers continue to evolve from physical to virtual and from enterprise to cloud, so do the security challenges they face. In recent times, microsegmentation, which evolved from network segmentation, has emerged as an alternative solution to address security challenges.

While both network segmentation and microsegmentation may have the same goal of improving network security, notable differences exist between
them as shown in the table below:

Feature Network segmentation Microsegmentation
Definition Network segmentation divides the network into multiple subnets or segments, with each subnet acting as its own network segment. Microsegmentation divides the data centers and cloud environments into distinct zones in a way that isolates and secures the workloads.
Mode of implementation Typically, organizations can use Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs), Access Control Lists (ACLs), and firewall rules to implement security policies. While Microsegmentation is possible via traditional networking technologies, most organizations use Software-Defined Networking (SDN) to define and manage security across multiple workloads.
Policies It uses course policies. It is based on the concept of a perimeter defense that uses subnets, VLANs, ports, protocols to differentiate the traffic from different segments of the network. Organizations use course policies to prevent the north-south movement of threats from an external network to an internal network. It uses granular policies. IT Admins can strengthen security by creating specific policies for more sensitive workloads. By leveraging granular policies, organizations prevent lateral movement (east-west) of threats within the internal network.
Policy enforcement Policies are enforced on VLANs and subnets. Policies are enforced on Virtual Machines (VMs) and hosts.
Management and control Centralized management is not mandatory. Management is centralized. This minimizes overheads for managing the security in multiple hosts.
Network virtualization Network virtualization is not mandatory. Organizations can still use traditional network technologies to achieve security. Network virtualization is mandatory via SDNs.

Benefits of Microsegmentation

With its fine-grained security capabilities set down to the workload and process levels, microsegmentation allows organizations to achieve the following:

Maximum intrusion detection

Workloads provide a limited attack surface, making them ideal for use in the diverse deployment models found in data centers. Unauthorized access to anything that is outside the purview of the workloads is prevented. When applications are added to the environment, necessary adjustments to policies follow, allowing the network to maintain security.

Improved damage control

With isolated workloads as secure zones, damage from security breaches is limited. By their very nature, security policies set at the workload level limit potentially damaging lateral movement from the attack vector in cases of intrusion. Security policy violations, if ever there are any, are caught easily via real-time alerts, allowing administrators to adjust security policies accordingly.

Flexible, ‘just right’ security policies

With security policies enforced at the workload level, a balance between being too restrictive and too open security is achieved at the data center, wherever it may be located. Since workloads are now the main driving force behind security, they can be structured in a way that staff are still able to operate freely and without restrictions when required. Where more security is needed, as in the case of critical applications, the applicable workloads can be configured accordingly.

Strengthen regulatory compliance

Microsegmentation offers a way to isolate segments of data that are bound by regulations, e.g. HIPAA, GDPR, and PCI, from the rest of the infrastructure. Strict controls over these isolated segments can be set, allowing them to pass audits as needed. Regulatory compliance is thus ensured, even as more organizations increasingly turn physical control of data storage over to cloud platforms.

How Parallels RAS Enables Microsegmentation

Parallels® Remote Application Server (RAS) provides microsegmentation support by enabling a multi-tenant architecture via the Tenant Broker, which enables organizations to monitor and manage multiple tenant farms.

Parallels RAS Tenant Broker shares Parallels Secure Client Gateways and front-end High Availability Load Balancers (HALBs) among tenants, which may be represented as isolated Parallels RAS Farms and/or sites. By keeping tenants’ environments isolated from each other, increased resource usage efficiency and improved security are achieved. Organizations are able to provide an efficient and faster onboarding experience for new users while reducing hardware requirements for each tenant and lowering overall IT operations and management costs.

Check out Parallels RAS and how its microsegmentation capabilities can be ideal for your network by downloading your 30-day Parallels RAS trial.