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Secure Critical Applications

Today’s information security teams face two major trends that make it more challenging than ever to secure critical applications. The first is that IT infrastructure is evolving rapidly and continuously. Hybrid cloud architectures with a combination of on-premises and cloud workloads are now the norm. There are also now a multitude of application workload deployment methods, including bare-metal servers, virtualization platforms, cloud instances, and containers. This growing heterogeneity, combined with increased automation, makes it more challenging for security teams to stay current with sanctioned application usage, much less malicious activity.

The second major challenge that makes it difficult to secure critical applications is that attackers are growing more targeted and sophisticated over time. As security technologies become more effective at detecting and stopping more generic, broad-scale attacks, attackers are shifting to more deliberate techniques focused on specific targets. These efforts are aided by the rapid growth of east-west traffic in enterprise environments as application architectures become more distributed and as cloud workloads introduce additional layers of abstraction. By analyzing this east-west traffic for clues about how applications function and interact with each other, attackers can identify potential attack vectors. The large quantity of east-west traffic also provides potential cover when attacks are advanced, as attackers often attempt to blend unauthorized lateral movement in with legitimate traffic.

Securing Critical Applications with Micro-Segmentation

Implementing a sound micro-segmentation approach is one of the best steps that security teams can take to gain greater infrastructure visibility and secure critical applications. While the concept of isolating applications and application components is not new, micro-segmentation solutions like GuardiCore Centra have improved on this concept in a number of ways that help security teams overcome the challenges described above.

It’s important for organizations considering micro-segmentation to avoid becoming overwhelmed by its broad range of applications. While the flexibility that micro-segmentation offers is one of its key advantages over alternative security approaches, attempting to address every possible micro-segmentation use case on day one is impractical. The best results are often achieved through a phased approach. Focusing on the most critical applications early in a micro-segmentation rollout process is an excellent way to deliver value to the organization quickly while developing a greater understanding of how micro-segmentation can be applied to additional use cases in subsequent phases.

Process-Level Granularity

The most significant benefit that micro-segmentation provides over more traditional segmentation approaches is that it can enables visibility and control at the process level. This gives security teams much greater ability to secure critical applications by making it possible to align segmentation policies with application logic. Application-aware micro-segmentation policies that allow known legitimate flows while blocking everything else significantly reduce attackers’ ability to move laterally and blend in with legitimate east-west traffic.

Unified Data Center and Cloud Workload Protection

Another important advantage that micro-segmentation offers is a consistent policy approach for both on-premises and cloud workloads. While traditional segmentation approaches are often tied to specific environments, such as network infrastructure, a specific virtualization technology, or a specific cloud provider, micro-segmentation solutions like GuardiCore Centra are implemented at the workload level and can migrate with workloads as they move between environments. This makes it possible to secure critical applications in hybrid cloud infrastructure and prevent new security risks from being introduced as the result of infrastructure changes.

Platform Independence

In addition to providing a unified security approach across disparate environments, micro-segmentation solutions like GuardiCore Centra also work consistently across various operating systems and deployment models. This is essential at a time when many organizations have a blend of bare-metal servers, virtualized servers, containers, and cloud instances. Implementing micro-segmentation at the application level ensures that policies can persist as underlying deployment platform technologies change.

Common Workload Protection Needs

There are several categories of critical applications that exist in most organizations and are particularly challenging – and particularly important – to secure.

Protecting High-Value Targets

Every organization has infrastructure components that play a central role in governing access to other systems throughout the environment. Examples may include domain controllers, privileged access management systems, and jump servers. It is essential to have a well-considered workflow protection strategy for these systems, as a compromise will give an attacker extensive ability to move laterally in the direction of systems containing sensitive or highly valuable data. Micro-segmentation policies with process-level granularity allow security teams to tightly manage how these systems are used, reducing the risk of unauthorized use.

Cloud Workload Protection

As more workloads migrate to the cloud, traditional security controls are often supplanted by security settings provided by a specific cloud provider. While the native capabilities that cloud providers offer are often valuable, they create situations in which security teams must segment their environment one way on-premises and another way in the cloud. This creates greater potential for new security issues as a result of confusion, mis-configuration, or lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities.

The challenge is compounded when organizations use more than one cloud provider, as each has its own set of security frameworks. Because micro-segmentation is platform-independent, the introduction of cloud workloads does not significantly increase the attack surface. Moreover, micro-segmentation can be performed consistently across multiple cloud platforms as a complement to any native cloud provider security features in use, avoiding confusion and providing greater flexibility to migrate workloads between cloud providers.

New Application Deployment Technologies

While bare-metal servers, virtualized servers, and cloud instances all preserve the traditional Windows or Linux operating system deployment model, new technologies such as containers represent a fundamentally different application deployment approach with a unique set of workload protection challenges. Implementing a micro-segmentation solution that includes support for containerized applications is another step organizations can take to secure critical applications in a manner that will persist as the underlying infrastructure evolves over time.

Critical Applications in Specific Industries

Along with the general steps that all organizations should take to secure critical applications, many industries have unique workload protection challenges based on the types of data they store or their specific regulatory requirements.

Examples include:

  • Healthcare applications that store or access protected health information (PHI) for patients that is both confidential and subject to HIPAA regulation.
  • Financial services applications that contain extensive personally identifiable information (PII) and other sensitive data that is subject to industry regulations like PCI DSS.
  • Law firm applications that store sensitive information that must be protected for client confidentiality reasons.

In these and other vertical-specific scenarios, micro-segmentation technologies can be used to both enforce required regulatory boundaries within the infrastructure and gain real-time and historical visibility to support regulatory audits.

Decoupling Security from Infrastructure

While there are a variety of factors that security teams must consider when securing critical applications in their organization, workload protection efforts do not need to be complicated by IT infrastructure evolution. By using micro-segmentation to align security policies with application functionality rather than underlying infrastructure, security teams can protect key applications effectively even as deployment approaches change or diversify. In addition, the added granularity of control that micro-segmentation provides makes it easier to address organization- or industry-specific security requirements effectively and consistently.

For more information on micro-segmentation, visit our Micro-Segmentation Hub.