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What is network security?

Network security describes the tools, measures, processes, and roles dedicated to safeguarding networks from cyber-attacks and other security threats.

Although computer systems have existed since the mid 20th century, the world didn’t really enter the information age until those systems became capable of connecting. Today, most computers are networked to other digital systems, allowing them to exchange data, share resources, and improve their capacity and capability more easily and efficiently. But with this evolution comes certain dangers; every endpoint on a computer network can become an entry point for malicious actors attempting to gain access to sensitive data. And once inside, it’s relatively simple for those actors to move unhindered through every connected system.

In response to these threats, modern organizations turn to network security.

At its heart, network security is cyber security, but with a greater focus on protecting interconnected computer systems and their various endpoints. As such, network security covers a range of measures designed to protect the underlying network infrastructure from unauthorized access, misuse, or theft. This involves creating a secure place for devices, applications, users, and data so that they can operate and exchange information securely. By implementing network security measures, businesses can track and investigate network traffic and respond quickly to potential threats–ensuring that their critical network infrastructure remains safe from malicious attacks

In other words, network security covers everything from user education and network data analytics to intrusion prevention and response. Without proper network security measures in place, a company's network and data could be vulnerable to hacking, phishing attacks, viruses, malware, and other security threats.

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Modern company networks are extremely complex, bringing together potentially thousands of endpoints and scaling up as new devices and applications are added to the mix. To protect such a dynamic system, network security adopts a layers model, where policies and tools are designed to address the specific needs of each area, providing layers of defenses consisting of various controls. These controls can be divided into three categories of network security solutions:

Administrative controls

Often, the weakest point in network security is the human element. Authorized users such as employees and contractors may inadvertently (or even intentionally) expose sensitive systems and data to attack. These ‘insider threats’ necessitate the need for organizations to create administrative controls: policies and procedures for governing user behavior within the network. This generally consists of security awareness training, password policies, access control policies, and incident response plans. The goal is to educate those who have access to the network while also limiting access wherever it is not relevant to a current task.

Physical controls

Not all network security threats are virtual. Physical controls are the security measures put in place to protect the physical assets of an organization—security cameras, IoT (Internet of Things) devices, routers, etc. Physical controls are especially important for organizations that store sensitive information or valuable assets on-site. These controls, such as door locks and biometric scanners, are designed to prevent unauthorized access to these resources and to detect and respond to any breaches or malicious activity that may occur.

Technical controls

Where physical controls help secure hardware and devices in the real world, technical controls are the digital barriers within the network itself. These controls include things like firewalls, intrusion detection systems, encryption, and antivirus software. Technical controls are critical for protecting against external and internal cyber threats by identifying potential dangers and alerting response teams automatically.

Simply put, network security exists to provide authorized access to relevant network resources for verified users, while blocking malicious actors and internal threats from endangering sensitive data. This empowers organizations to continue to provide uninterrupted network services to their customers and employees. More specifically, effective network security offers the following business advantages:

Reduced risk

There is a lot of risk that goes along with network security, and not all of it comes from malicious actors. As the dangers associated with compromised data continue to grow, governments around the world are enacting laws aimed at ensuring that organizations that collect and store customer data are accountable for its security. In addition to reducing the risk of experiencing a data breach, properly implemented network security solutions prioritize regulatory compliance. This helps companies of all sizes avoid the penalties of failing to secure user data.

Improved access management

Who has access to various permissions can have a major effect on the integrity of the network system and data. Network security helps manage network access by establishing controls to ensure that users are properly verified and that no one can interact with resources they don’t need. Access management can also help businesses monitor user behavior and prevent potential threats before they occur.

Reputational security

Customers know that their digital safety depends on the network security capabilities of the organizations they choose to do business with—even a minor breach can inspire customers to look for other options. Network security is the answer. By implementing robust security measures, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to protecting their customers' data and earn their trust. A positive reputation for security can also attract new customers and partners who value data privacy and security.

Accelerated digital transformation

Finally, network security encourages digital transformation by enabling businesses to adopt new technologies and innovations without exposing themselves to increased risk. As these innovations revolutionize how the world works and collaborates, network security supports modern employees while also protecting vital digital assets.

Digital threats are always evolving, and that means that businesses need to take a comprehensive approach to protecting their essential network systems, data, and devices. An effective network security posture must be capable of countering the diverse gamut of cyber risks facing organizations today.

Some of the most common types of network security that organizations should be implementing include:

Access Control

Access control is the process of restricting data and resources so that only authorized users and devices have access. Access control can be implemented at various levels, such as physical access control, network access control, or application access control.

Antivirus software

Antivirus software programs protect computers and networks from malware of all kinds, including viruses, worms, and Trojan horses. Antivirus programs scan for and remove any malicious code found on the system but must be frequently updated to account for new threats.

Application security

Application security is a broad topic, referring to the tools and strategies for securing software applications against cyber-attacks and other digital threats. This includes practices such as secure coding, vulnerability testing, and patch management.

Behavioral analytics

Behavioral analytics is a type of network security that uses machine learning algorithms to analyze user behavior and detect anomalies that may indicate a security threat. It can be used to identify insider threats and detect real-time attacks, allowing response teams to act before infiltrators can cause severe damage.

Cloud security

Cloud security defends data and applications hosted in cloud environments. This control includes access control, data encryption, and compliance with industry-specific regulations.

Data loss prevention

Data loss prevention (DLP) describes the tools and processes used to secure sensitive data against being lost or damaged. This can include measures such as data encryption, access control, and network monitoring.

Email security

Email security exists to strength email systems and prevent phishing attacks, spam, and malware downloads. This can include filtering out emails from unverified senders, scanning attachments for malicious code, and enforcing secure email policies among employees.


A firewall is a network security system that monitors and controls incoming and outgoing traffic based on predetermined security rules. It acts as a barrier between a trusted, secure internal network and an untrusted, public network (like the internet). Firewalls prevent unauthorized access to a network and can also block malicious traffic

Industrial network security

Industrial network security is focused on securing operational technology (OT) systems used in industrial environments like manufacturing plants and power grids. Network segmentation, access control, and intrusion detection systems are all intrinsic to industrial network security.

Intrusion prevention systems

Intrusion prevention systems (IPS) are network security appliances that detect and prevent malicious network traffic. They use a combination of signature-based and behavioral-based detection methods to identify and block attacks. These systems can also automatically respond to an attack by blocking traffic from the source IP address.

Mobile device security

Mobile device security protects smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices against various forms of compromise. To do this, it relies on strong data encryption, device management, and secure access to company resources.

Network segmentation

Network segmentation is the process of dividing a network into smaller subnetworks or segments to improve security. This is done by creating barriers between different parts of the network, limiting access to resources and applications based on user roles or security clearance.

Security information and event management

Security information and event management (SIEM) collects and analyzes security-related data from a range of sources, including firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and security tools.


A virtual private network (VPN) is a secure, encrypted connection between two devices over an unsecured network. VPNs are commonly used by remote workers to securely access company resources from outside the office. VPNs also allow businesses to securely connect multiple office locations together.

Web security

Web security is designed to secure websites and web applications against online attacks and illegal back-end access. This includes secure coding, vulnerability testing, and web application firewalls.
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Your organization’s security posture is only as strong as your network security posture. Unfortunately, as network threats continue to diversify, keeping up with evolving security needs can become more than a full-time job. ServiceNow can help.

Built on the award-winning Now Platform®, ServiceNow Security Operations brings together security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) in a single, centralized location, optimizing your network security in the process. Leverage Configuration Management Database (CMDB) to match security incidents to business services and IT infrastructure to prioritize threats based on potential impact. Apply intelligent workflows and AI-enhanced automation to streamline IT responses. Then take your network security even further, with Security Incident Response and Vulnerability Response. ServiceNow makes it all possible.

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