What is network security?

Network security is the act of protecting digital resources, applications, and data from malicious intrusions. While traditionally this has meant establishing a perimeter around endpoints and network resources with firewall solutions and related tools, recent evolution in hackers' methods has necessitated evolution.

Today's approaches to network security include controlling access to resources and employing advanced analytics to detect problems in real time. With these methods and more, businesses can defend their applications, data, and users, even as complexities build due to trends such as remote work and the internet of things (IoT).

Explore additional data security topics:

Why move beyond traditional network security models?

The old orthodoxy of network security has vanished in recent years. Methods that used to be considered standards are now only part of the picture. This means companies that have spent years without updating their cybersecurity strategies are now at elevated risk, and new businesses starting out must follow different priorities than the ones that came before.

A useful way to track new network security requirements is to consider the shifts that have occurred in the enterprise networking landscape over the past few years. Each of these major movements has brought with it new cybersecurity priorities and best practices.

These trends include:

  • End of the single perimeter: The legacy model—perimeter network security—has lost much of its relevance because companies no longer have a single perimeter to defend. Today's companies are using software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications hosted in the cloud and enabling remote access to resources through a digital workspace model. This means the combination of firewall systems, network device posture assessment and virtual private network (VPN) that has protected companies in the past will no longer suffice.
  • Rise of the remote workforce: One of the most notable developments in networking over the past several years has been the accelerated move to remote and hybrid work. Contributors from outside the office, whether permanent employees or freelancers, are logging in from a variety of endpoint types over varied network connections. This means network security must be more versatile than in the days when employees were connecting from standardized, company-owned devices.
  • Development of the internet of things: The expansion of corporate networks is so fast, in part, because new device types are going online. Even mobile device expansion stretched security controls to their limits. Now, anything that can be equipped with a sensor is eligible to become part of the internet of things, adding a host of new endpoint options to a given network ecosystem and drastically increasing a business's attack surface. Administrators must take steps to ensure the newly added IoT devices don't become easy access points for bad actors.

Considering the complexity, varied nature and sprawl of modern networks, legacy methods of network security aren't able to cope with today's needs. Installing perimeter defenses around quickly expanding groups of endpoints would be a waste of employee time and effort, and would ultimately come up short anyway.

When moving on from legacy security, network administrators must remain vigilant to defend against the array of advanced threats that make up today's landscape.

4 major network security threats that must be addressed

Today, a cybercriminal can take advantage of vulnerabilities in large and varied network attack surfaces to find new ways to introduce malware and ransomware into a network and cause a data breach. With a foothold gained through stolen data, these bad actors will try to penetrate further layers in search of privileged data or other valuable content. Stopping hackers can require a modern approach to locking down the network.

Creating a system capable of dealing with these subtle and potentially costly cyber threats means implementing cutting-edge technologies. Standard approaches to access control such as firewall and VPN implementation are no longer enough on their own.

Device theft and unauthorized access

What happens when an individual's device or login credentials fall into malicious hands? This is a vital question for companies to answer, because there are more devices in circulation than ever and employees tend to reuse their passwords across accounts and services. Advanced information security approaches should be ready to deal with login attempts by bad actors by spotting unusual behavior and locking accounts down.

Insider threats

Perhaps even more threatening than an intruder pretending to be an authorized user is someone with legitimate credentials using them maliciously to exfiltrate sensitive data. Strict role-based access control and monitoring have become musts in modern security to ensure accounts are only used for appropriate purposes.

Malicious files and URLs on unprotected networks

A plethora of different devices and networks are in play in a modern remote or hybrid work model. If users working with their own devices or on outside networks click on a malicious file or compromised URL, what will happen? Administrators need to think about this all-too-common occurrence and ensure their URL filtering, browser isolation and other anti-malware software extends to the whole network.

Spear phishing and social engineering

Accidentally clicking a bad file isn't the only way for a user to fall victim to a cyberattack. An employee could also fall victim to a spear phishing campaign that uses psychological manipulation—one consisting of convincing, well-crafted emails requesting private information such as login credentials. Comprehensive security solutions will lock down apps and other essential network resources to prevent use of any stolen credentials.


How the approach to cybersecurity and zero trust network access has evolved

See how ZTNA has become mainstream to meet the needs of a hybrid organization.

Building a network security architecture: Key components and tools

The difference between a powerful modern network security architecture and an outdated legacy system resides in advanced features. The resulting capabilities can provide user, data, and application security in ways that traditional methods cannot, applying technologies across varied networks incorporating a variety of devices and connections.

Modern network security solutions should combine close monitoring of user activity across devices and networks for threat detection with a secure application access solution. They should also be convenient and seamless for users to work with, so they don't impede productivity with excessive and time-consuming checks and manual processes.

It's possible to break down these modern security approaches into two distinct functional areas: Zero trust security solutions and secure access security edge (SASE) architecture.

  • Zero trust access: The concept behind zero trust access is simple: In such a system, no device or user account is ever assumed to be safe. It doesn't mean a company doesn't trust its employees. Rather, the method acknowledges that users' credentials could be used maliciously at any time. By using contextual factors and behavioral analytics, a zero trust solution determines when to grant access and when to withhold it based on suspicious behavior.
  • SASE: A SASE solution turns security into a cloud-delivered capability. This means every part of the network receives consistent security policies and a uniform network experience. SASE delivers major value for administrators, who no longer have to work with a patchwork of network security measures on individual devices or networks—everything is centralized. A SASE architecture is implemented as part of a company's software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) deployment, keeping all users connected safely and seamlessly.

These relatively new solutions have become necessities in a short period of time because the traditional approaches to networking and security were not able to meet today’s hybrid work model needs. The rise of remote and hybrid work has changed the way organizations operate, which means that unless security capabilities follow suit, companies will fall behind in their ability to protect users, data and applications from potential threats.

Citrix secure access solutions for network security

Companies that choose Citrix as their digital workspace, SASE or SD-WAN partner have access to the types of network security capabilities that can keep teams safe and efficient. With these cloud security controls in place, it's possible to oversee a remote or hybrid workforce with confidence that employees have industry-leading protection against the latest, most threatening security risks.

There are two primary secure access solutions available from Citrix. These security packages are fully integrated into network architecture and deliver the following advantages:

  • Citrix Secure Private Access: This digital workspace feature lets companies implement true zero trust security and adaptive authentication—while allowing secure remote access to both on-premises applications and SaaS apps. The zero trust approach replaces a traditional VPN, ensuring a greater level of top-down and consistent security, no matter how sprawling the network may be and what types of devices users prefer.
  • Citrix Secure Internet Access: This is a component of Citrix's turnkey SASE architecture. The overall SASE solution takes a cloud-based approach to consistent network security. Citrix Secure Internet Access employs more than 100 points of presence (PoP) and takes its data from over 10 threat engines. No matter where users are logging on from, and what device they're using, they receive a secure, reliable access experience.