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The Importance of Segmentation

Illustration showing segmenting of people

Segmentation is the method of dividing an extensive network into smaller segments and applying different security configurations to each segment, depending on its function. Segmentation improves security and makes for a better-designed network. This widespread implementation is part of adopting a zero-trust architecture.

Physical vs. Logical Segmentation

Physical segmentation involves dividing a more extensive network into a collection of smaller subnets. A physical or virtual firewall acts as a gateway, controlling the traffic coming in and going out. Physical segmentation is relatively straightforward to adopt, as the division lies in the architecture. You would use routers, firewalls, or other physical devices to implement physical segmentation successfully.

Logical segmentation is software-based and uses subnetting, VLAS, and network addressing to accomplish the segmentation. It is a more flexible option. Because logical segmentation does not involve moving hardware around to accomplish the segmentation, it is also more cost-effective and less time-consuming.

Types of segmentation

Segmentation can occur based on different objectives. Segmentation on the user level implies that certain users have access to certain segments due to their role in the company. For example, you would not want the staff on the sales floor to be able to access the finance department section. 

You could also segment by application.  This is similar to user segmentation, except that segmentation is based on what applications can be accessed.  For example, all the development applications would be in one segment, financial applications would be in another, and backups would again be stored in another segment. 

There are various other ways to implement segmentation. It’s crucial for companies to explore these possibilities and select the solution that best aligns with their unique network and business model. This proactive approach can lead to enhanced efficiency and security in your operations.

Benefits of segmentation

Enhances user experience.

Improving network performance will make users happier as speeds increase, and server lag will be minimized.

Better security

Security improves when segmentation is implemented.  Should a bad actor gain entry into a segment, the attack can be contained in one segment rather than impacting the whole network.

Minimize outages

Using segmentation could protect the network from downtime due to technical issues. If one segment is down, the impact is limited to that segment, sparing the rest of the network.

Controlling access

By segmenting parts of the network, guests cannot get access to segments they are not authorized to see.  You could restrict certain groups of people and allow others to do so, making for a more secure network.

Segmentation and compliance

PCI-DSS and CMMC are two standards/regulations that promote segmentation to increase security.  Segmenting cardholder data and isolating it from the rest of the network is more accessible to achieve compliance.  Segmentation can divide the in-scope systems from the -out-of-scope systems.

In the case of CMMC, segmentation involves separating federal contract information and controlled unclassified information from the rest of the information handled by your company.  By segmenting this information, you can prevent access to this information from unauthorized persons and bad actors.
By segmenting a part of the network and fortifying the protection of these segments, you are not only enhancing security but also ensuring compliance. This approach is not only cost-effective but also provides a robust shield against potential threats, instilling a sense of security and protection.

Importance of segmentation

To emphasize the importance of correct segmentation, I will take you through the 2013 Target Breach case. In November 2013, bad actors infiltrated the network of Target, a well-known store in the USA. These bad actors used stolen credentials to access the internal network. Unfortunately, Target had configured its segmentation improperly. This resulted in the bad actors gaining entry into the point-of-sale system. More than 40 million credit card details were stolen because of this.

 Another example is the Equifax breach in 2017. Failure in network segmentation leaked the details of over 140 million people. The attackers gained access through a web portal and then accessed other servers because the systems were not segmented off. This is another reminder of the importance of keeping vulnerable information in segments away from general network areas.

Challenges of Segmentation


The first challenge when dealing with segmentation is balancing the need to keep it simple versus the requirements that can quickly become very complex.
Having a segmented network means that it needs to be managed. The key here is not to overburden the IT staff with excessive segmentation requirements but to still have an effective segmentation strategy to protect the company.
The last challenge is designing the network segmentation to allow for scalability and growth in each segment.

Final Thoughts

Network segmentation is not a new concept; it has been around since the start of computer networking. However, because of the increase in cyber-attacks, there is a renewed effort to make networks more secure. Segments are becoming smaller and more heavily guarded. Like many other cyber-security solutions, segmentation is not the be-all and end-all to keeping your environment safe. Network segmentation should be combined with other security features like multifactor authentication in a holistic approach to keeping companies secure and bad actors outside the perimeter.

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Should you use segmentation to protect sensitive data? Absolutely! Protect your PCI DSS, CMMC, and other data. Learn about its purpose and determine systems in-scope systems.

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