Security / May 5, 2023

What Is Network Security Monitoring?

Most of us are familiar with the story of the Trojan Horse: A Greek army, attempting to invade the city of Troy, hides inside a statue of a giant wooden horse. When the people of Troy see the army has left and the horse is waiting outside the city walls, they bring it in as a trophy of their victory. And naturally, once inside the walls, the Greeks get to work destroying the city.

A lot has changed since the Trojans and the Greeks faced off, but the reason the story of the Trojan Horse remains is its relevance. After all, the only thing an attacker needs to cause serious destruction is to get inside the walls. Or, in the case of your business network, get past the firewalls.

Today, essentially every organization, institution, and business is under digital siege. Threat actors of all kinds are intent on gaining access to your restricted networks. And once inside, how long they remain undetected can mean a difference of millions of dollars in damaged and lost data. Unfortunately, the average attacker dwell time is still measured in months, with some hackers remaining entrenched and hidden within company networks for more than 280 days. In answer to this and other network threats, successful businesses turn to network security monitoring.

Security Monitoring: Network Vigilance Automated

Network security monitoring is a term that describes various tools, tactics, and policies designed to oversee network traffic and devices to quickly identify potential vulnerabilities, suspicious activity, and any other signs that might indicate an upcoming or in-progress breach. In most cases, network security monitoring services rely on automated, intelligent systems capable of collecting, analyzing, and reporting threat indicators in real time.

This approach creates complete visibility into your vital security networks, monitoring every bit of information that passes through. Network security monitoring is an essential element of any modern business organization’s IT security ecosystem. Properly applied, network security monitoring empowers your business with early detection of security threats while also helping you identify potential areas of improvement.

Network Security Monitoring vs. Network Monitoring

Network security monitoring is an indispensable tool for modern businesses, as it helps to protect their IT assets from bad actors and ensures that any malicious activity is detected and addressed as quickly as possible. Because this approach involves monitoring network activity, the term network security monitoring is sometimes used synonymously with network monitoring. But while similar, these two terms do not mean the same thing.

Network Security Monitoring: Protection from Exploits and Attacks

As previously mentioned, network security monitoring exists to help organizations discover, locate, and mitigate network intrusions. It does this by analyzing various elements within your network, including:

  • Client-server communications – Traffic that involves requests for service made by users to servers on a network
  • Encrypted traffic sessions Encoded data sent and received through the network
  • Network payload Data sent and received in network packets
  • Network protocols The rules that determine how data is transmitted on the network
  • Traffic flow – Sequences of packets carrying information between multiple endpoints
  • Traffic patterns – Normal, expected network traffic patterns and any abnormal deviations that may indicate a breach

Network security monitoring focuses on protecting your organization’s security infrastructure; it involves capturing network traffic, comparing that traffic to expected standards, and analyzing deviations for any malicious or suspicious activity. Network security monitoring also provides timely alerts and notifications in the event of a possible breach.

Network Monitoring: A Closer Look at Network Performance

In contrast to network security monitoring, traditional network monitoring is much more focused on the structure and operation of the network itself. Network monitoring involves tracking the performance of your organization’s network, revealing any bottlenecks or other issues (such as latency or packet loss). Network monitoring provides a continuous overview of network performance, which can help your IT administrators identify areas of concern and take corrective action when necessary.

Network monitoring is an important safety measure for discovering and addressing problems indicative of overburdened network resources or faulty hardware. It accomplishes this by tracking essential network metrics related to:

  • Network configuration Settings, policies, and controls that define how the network operates
  • Network performance Network bandwidth, latency, throughput, error rates, and other performance-related indicators
  • Network uptime Availability and dependability of the network; the time during which it is performing its intended function

The Need for Both

It is worth recognizing that although network monitoring and network security monitoring often take different approaches and have their own specific focus, their goals are the same: to improve network visibility. As such, many network monitoring and security monitoring tools overlap to some extent. Without understanding baseline network performance metrics, it becomes nearly impossible to recognize anomalies that might represent a breach in your network security. At the same time, an attack can cause significant disruption to network availability and functionality, making security integral to network monitoring

By combining network security monitoring and network monitoring, you can ensure that your networks are operating optimally, securely, and under the watchful eye of intelligent automated systems.

Benefits of Network Security Monitoring

As the city of Troy discovered so long ago, no outer defense is impregnable.

Regardless of how well you fortify network access, at some point, a threat actor will find a way inside. How much damage they do and what it will cost your organization depend heavily on how quickly you can take action. Data breach costs climb significantly the longer an attacker is allowed to remain in the network. According to a recent study, a data breach lifecycle that lasts more than 200 days costs the targeted organization $1.12 million more on average than one that concludes in fewer than 200 days.

Therefore, the effectiveness of any network security monitoring solution depends on transparency. Monitoring network security places your essential systems under a microscope, allowing you to detect malicious traffic, track suspicious activity, identify known and unknown threats, and respond to security incidents more quickly and efficiently. In other words, you gain the visibility you need to identify and mitigate threats before they can spiral out of control.

Automated monitoring solutions built on real-time visibility allow administrators to see the big picture, accurately visualizing the movement of traffic and data across the network. This carries with it certain key advantages:

  • Minimizing response times
    Perhaps the most direct benefit of network security monitoring is that it reduces the time needed to locate, evaluate, and respond to security threats within your network. It does this not only through increased real-time tracking of all network activity but also by automating monitoring tasks.
  • Improved customer experience
    Your business isn’t the only victim when you experience a security breach; the customers who depend on your networks to provide essential services also suffer. Network security monitoring helps ensure that threats to these services are resolved quickly, creating a better, more consistent customer experience.
  • Enhanced efficiency
    Traditional network monitoring is more than a full-time job, demanding near-constant attention from IT teams and network administrators. Modern network security tools automate many of these responsibilities. As a result, valuable IT professionals can make more efficient and productive use of their time while also reducing the likelihood of human error.
  • Increased cost savings
    At the end of the day, the most obvious benefit of effective network security monitoring is that it protects your business’ network investment and reduces the likelihood of financial loss as a result of a data breach. These increased cost savings become even more pronounced when one considers the various network improvements made possible by enhanced network visibility.

Best Practices for Network Security Monitoring

Network security monitoring is an essential element of modern IT infrastructure, but implementing robust network security monitoring requires a layered approach, taking into account the overall architecture, system configurations, and the latest security technologies. Companies need to establish a comprehensive strategy that covers the entire network and its associated devices, from the edge to the core, while also ensuring that all users and applications have the necessary security controls in place. Additionally, ongoing monitoring should be performed to identify any potential weaknesses or threats that could compromise the security of the network.

For best results, consider these essential network security monitoring practices:

  • Perform a complete audit to determine your network’s baseline performance and identify any vulnerabilities within your systems — including security gaps, unused applications, and third-party accessibility issues
  • Create a separate location to house your monitoring data to keep it safe during a potential breach
  • Build a working protocol for incident response and train all relevant personnel on their tasks and responsibilities associated with it
  • Investigate any changes to your network configurations, as these may indicate an unauthorized presence in your system
  • Account for every data layer and don’t leave any unmonitored
  • Refer to historical network data as well as real-time data to develop a more complete picture of the network
  • Automate wherever possible
  • Compare network monitoring tools and invest only in solutions that offer total visibility and are backed by reliable support and resources

Protecting Your Network Security with Gigamon

As the most widely deployed next-generation network packet broker, Gigamon makes complete network visibility a reality. Network security and monitoring solutions such as the Gigamon Deep Observability Pipeline bring together industry-leading automation, optimization, analytics, and visibility tools. The result? A broader, deeper understanding of what traffic is moving through your network and what to do about it when it gets out of line. Powerful, intelligent, and supported by unmatched security expertise, Gigamon network security monitoring gives you the insights you need to protect the data you rely on.

Learn more about Gigamon network security, and get in touch with a Gigamon expert today.

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