Computer networking has always evolved at a rapid pace, but it seems to be accelerating at a far greater rate today, resulting in unprecedented challenges for network security managers.

The advent of the Internet has brought unprecedented access and the cloud has increased the speed of development and delivery. Now, containers and microservices provide the framework to reuse code and speed up the pace of business even further.

Today, business simply moves faster than in the past, and IT often struggles to keep pace. Network security managers need to deal with multiple platforms, multiple vendors and a never-ending stream of individual devices connecting to their company’s network. Making it work in a way that’s secure and compliant, while giving employees the access they need, is a major challenge.

Managing for Growth…
Between physical networks, cloud networks, hybrid IT and mobile devices, there is a fast-growing number of connection points to your network that need to be managed and secured to ensure compliance with policies and regulations.

But business rarely stands still. Now consider that an enterprise’s network security team can face hundreds of access change requests each and every week. Due to the size of today’s corporate networks – and the number of changes requested each day – these requests can quickly become overwhelming and difficult for a network security team to manage manually. Trying to keep pace means changes go unchecked and the network is overrun with unused, redundant and overly permissive rules – destabilizing the integrity of the network.

As the number of network connections and the volume of change requests increase, the number of related tasks that need to be factored into the network security team’s workflow also grows. From recertifying rules on a regular basis, to deploying new applications and ensuring access, to removing access to old machines (decommissioning a server), juggling all of these requirements (and more) is the job of network security management today.

…and Security
Ask any network security manager to quickly name their biggest concern, and despite the need to enable rapid growth and integrate a number of different network endpoints, it’s likely they’d all have the same answer: ensure security is achieved despite all the changes. Network security managers are expected to protect their company’s networks – but do so in a way that still enables employees to efficiently and easily do their jobs. Security must be everywhere without being prohibitive.

With network fragmentation and cloud implementations increasing, combined with a growing number of users and devices, there is increased potential for human error, even in a simple network configuration. Every slight change to the environment – intended or not – can have a critical effect across the entire network. Any misconfigurations or forgotten access rules can create a hole in your secure network – one that can be exploited by cybercriminals, leading to compromised customer data, damaged reputation and ultimately, the loss of customers.

The network itself has also fundamentally changed. Companies no longer rely on a physical data center; public clouds and hybrid cloud networks have rapidly become critical elements of IT infrastructure. Hybrid networks are not always visible to the network security team, complicating the ability to understand the network topology, maintain application connectivity and ensure security.

So, how can a network security manager get a handle on the intricacy of today’s corporate networks and make sure they remain both agile and secure?

Segmentation and Automation to Manage Complexity
One way that network security managers can gain control of their networks is to embrace policy-based network segmentation. The idea behind segmentation is that your entire network is split into separate zones – with the benefit being that if an attacker enters the network through a certain area they’d only be able to access that area, or zone. The threat is contained and prevented from spreading to other areas of the network, which limits the potential for disaster. This method requires access privileges to be spelled out specifically through a network security policy for all those that use the network legitimately.

This method can be successful – but setting it up and maintaining it adds a new level of effort to an already difficult-to-manage network. With each zone you create, you also create an opportunity for policy misconfigurations through human error that could cause the security issues you’re trying to prevent.

That’s why to achieve segmentation and correctly maintain it, you need to incorporate automation and orchestration alongside it. Using automation and orchestration, companies can enforce network security policy across all aspects of the network infrastructure – be they IP ranges, subnets, or security groups used in public and private clouds. This approach also ensures that any future modifications of your security policy within the network are secure and compliant.

Automation and orchestration of network policies ensure that you will be able to make secure and compliant changes across your entire network – without compromising agility, risking human error, or wasting your network security team’s valuable time on tedious, easily automated tasks. The network change and implementation processes can be streamlined and secured.

Today’s corporate networks are complex and constantly changing – that’s the reality every network security manager must deal with. It’s imperative to ensure that you’re setting yourself up to successfully make the correct decisions so changes do not put your organization at risk. Network security policy automation and orchestration will help you do so, while also improving visibility and compliance.