Micro segmentation refers to a network security technique. It allows security architects to divide a data center into distinct security segments logically. It can go as far as the individual workload level. That way, they can define specific security controls and provide services for each component.

Think of it as an office building’s lobby security personnel. While each office may have its own security measures (including guards), the lobby security already limits who can go into the building, thereby decreasing any office’s chances of intrusion.

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Micro segmentation works by securing applications by only allowing certain kinds of traffic and denying all others. It thus serves as the foundation of a zero-trust security model in a data center and the cloud. In a zero-trust security model all users and devices inside and outside the network are considered untrustworthy and must be verified before they are granted access. 

By only letting legitimate and safe traffic get into a network, micro segmentation users are less likely to let threats in.

What Is Micro Segmentation Exactly?

When asked the question “What is micro segmentation?” you can liken it to installing a safe in your house. While your place may have security guards at the lobby entrance, guard dogs, and state-of-the-art door locks, keeping your most prized possessions in a safe will still make you feel more at peace.

It is most useful in targeted attacks where attackers are known to move from one system to another within a network (i.e., employ lateral movement) to get to what they want. Micro segmentation can work better than ordinary firewalls.

Since the data center is partitioned and each segment is protected based on how valuable the data in a repository is with distinct controls. Even when one portion is compromised, it won’t be possible to breach all parts simultaneously.

In our example above, even if someone successfully breaks into your home and steals your stuff, the intruder may not be able to just as quickly get his or her hands on what you hold most dear (i.e., what’s hidden in your safe).

Challenges in Implementing Micro Segmentation

Because micro segmentation requires implementing detailed policy controls for every segment, managing and updating the policies is challenging. Each approach needs to adapt to any change in applications, processes, and devices.

Micro segmentation requires adaptation from the macro level (i.e., beginning with company-wide policies and ending with application-specific ones). The security measures should not contradict each other. Application-specific policies must adhere to company-wide standards. Otherwise, processes may be disrupted.

Benefits of Micro Segmentation

Micro segmentation limits the need for installing several physical firewalls in a data center. It also allows for greater flexibility in deploying different security policies using network virtualization technology. It can also protect every virtual machine (VM) in a network with policy-driven and application-level security controls.

And since micro-segmentation applies specific security policies to different workloads, it can significantly bolster an organization’s resistance to attacks. Benefits of micro segmentation include:

Attack Surface Reduction

As an organization increases its cloud adoption, its data gets more and more stored outside its network. As such, the information may not be as protected as if it’s kept within the company’s network. The company’s attack surface thus widens.

The applications the data center uses (e.g., workload management software, automation tools, application programming interfaces [APIs], etc.) are added to possible threat entry points. But since micro segmentation only allows specific traffic into the portion of the data center your information is stored in. It can significantly reduce your attack surface.

Critical App Protection

As micro segmentation separates workloads and applications according to importance, you can focus on protecting business-critical or top-secret data more than others. And should intruders get into the data center, your applications and data can stay protected because they have separate policies and controls in place.

Better Regulatory Compliance

Micro segmentation provides better compliance for applications that need regulation. It can also let security administrators better protect data covered by strict privacy regulations than information that isn’t.

The answer to “What is micro segmentation?” is simple. It is a means to protect applications, workloads, data repositories at different levels, depending on their importance, even while they reside in the same data center.