How IT Works: Microsegmentation


January 20, 2019 

Originally published: December 18, 2016

Whether protecting sensitive information, intellectual property, or just safeguarding against attacks, every IT department must devote some resources to data security.


Traditionally, this takes the form of a sophisticated firewall which operates as a gatekeeper to the environment. Any data that wants to enter or leave the network must pass through this screening process to receive clearance. If the firewall deems the file to be malicious or untrustworthy, it is stopped.

Firewalls are an effective way to regulate traffic coming and going from the network, but they are hardly foolproof. There is a saying in data security; security systems need to be right 100% of the time, but a hacker only needs to be right once.

Inevitably, a firewall is going to have holes in it, and inevitably, a hacker will find a way through those holes. What is left to stop them once they are inside? For some environments, the answer is nothing.

One strategy for providing security to the interior of the network is microsegmentation, and it can be achieved with software defined networking (SDN) products like VMware NSX.


What is Microsegmentation?


Segmentation is the practice of dividing the network into different tiers and installing a physical firewall or router designed to allow or forbid access to specific segments. Common segmentation strategies include an application segment, a web segment, and a database segment. Segmentation is a useful strategy and leads to a more robust security system, but there is still room to improve.


The Zero Trust Model and Microsegmentation


Forrester Research developed a concept known as the “zero trust” model of data security. It states that security policies should not simply be applied to the environment as a whole or large


segment groupings but to everything. Every workload, every application, everything in the network must be protected.

Without this strategy, a network is on some level “trusting” their network traffic to be innocent and benign. Microsegmentation is the process by which this “zero trust” model is achieved, and it drastically increases the number of segments in play in the network.

Microsegmentation effectively makes each virtual machine (VM) on the hypervisor their own individual segment. Therefore, each and every virtual machine is protected by their own firewall. If a malicious file did manage a way through the environment firewall and onto a virtual machine, the file can get no further without having to once more pass through a firewall.


Trying to create microsegmentation manually by dedicating specific physical firewalls and routers to virtual machines or bare-metal servers would be a time consuming and expensive process. However, with software defined networking solutions like VMware NSX, the environment is virtualized. This enables a network administrator to establish microsegmentation by creating “security policies” tied to each VM.


Escalation and Data Security


Microsegmentation is a powerful strategy for protecting the network, but it is important to remember why security administrators developed it in the first place. There is an ongoing arms race between data security professionals and hackers, and their back and forth competition has led us here.

Microsegmentation is effective now and will one day become as commonplace as the standard firewall but it will never be truly enough. It is only a matter of time before malicious agents find reliable work arounds. For this reason, network administrators must always be fortifying their network security with the latest solutions, and that is not likely to ever change.


Download Our FREE White Paper


Microsegmentation should not be ignored as a compelling use case for SDN solutions, but it is only one component of a much larger concept. Learn more about software defined networking and all the ways in which it can improve your IT environment in our FREE white paper, Modernizing Your IT Environment with Software Defined Networking.”

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