What Is an Air-Gapped Network? Why Should You Use One?
Most businesses and high-profile industries need a zero-risk approach to online threats. And sometimes, the best way to guarantee that protection is to “air-gap” a network to isolate it from all external connections.
So, how does an air-gapped network achieve that physical barrier for your network? And what are some benefits of implementing it?
What Is an Air-Gapped Network?
An air-gapped network creates a barrier between a network and attacking cybercriminals by creating a contextual or “air” gap. This parallel network prevents intrusions and so protects your digital assets.
The main idea behind creating an air-gapped network is to prevent threat actors from attacking a system through an external connection. Since an air-gapped network carries no external connections, there’s no easy entry-point.
The practice of air-gapping is also used for augmenting existing backup and data recovery strategies as it offers an added layer of protection.
Types of Air-Gapped Networks
Air-gapped networks are frequently utilized in critical infrastructure and high uptime environments.
While they might have different variations, here are the three common concepts air-gapped networks are built upon.
- A physical air gap: This physically isolates all digital assets from any network-connected system. Anyone requiring access to data in this setup will need to cross physical security barriers to access it.
- Separated in the same environment: This air gap is achieved by simply disconnecting a device from a network. This usually entails having two servers on the same rack, for instance. While they are in close physical proximity, they are still air-gapped away from each other because one is not plugged into the network.
- A logical air gap: As the name implies, this is the segregation of a network-connected digital asset by using a logical process. For example, by implementing encryption and hashing technologies along with role-based access controls, you can effectively achieve the same security controls as through a physical air gap. Even if cybercriminals were to get their hands on these digital assets, they probably won’t be able to decipher or modify them.
Any variation of an air-gapped network can be created by connecting a network of computers, servers, IoT devices, or industrial controls using standard networking equipment, without any external connections. This is to ensure that the data can move between the network itself but has no external entry or exit points.
What Are the Benefits of an Air-Gapped Network?
While there’s no perfect solution for securing your assets, air-gapped networks do provide an extra layer of security. Here are some major benefits of investing in an air-gapped network.
Increased Isolation and Secrecy
By creating a parallel network that stays untouched by external connections, air-gapped networks increase privacy. This isolation is a requirement for high-risk industries such as the government and military, as they cannot afford any cyberattacks and disruptions.
Air-gapped networks deploy quickly. A typical setup takes very little time, and the network can be up and running on day one through a centralized cloud management system.
Help With Disaster Recovery
Air-gapped networks are a great asset should a disaster occur and you need to rely on a recovery plan.
Setting up air-gapped backups of your data can greatly expedite any recovery efforts, in case you become a victim of any massive attacks.
Stopping Remote Hacks
To hack into an air-gapped network, a cybercriminal would need in-person access, making remote hacking quite impossible.
Payment and Control Systems are Separated
With an air-gapped network, you can keep your payment and control systems separated from the public and private networks that your company might otherwise use.
This model also serves businesses and large retailers such as Walmart, where many services—optometrist, automotive, tax preparation—are offered under a single roof. Through air-gapping, retailers can help separate payment and control systems for all these services.
You’re Safe Using Legacy Software
In some cases, companies might need to operate legacy software. But the problem with legacy software is that it can only run on outdated and vulnerable devices (or the software is vulnerable itself).
By investing in an air-gapped network, you can run legacy software with minimal risk as it will stay disconnected from all internet services and external networks.
How to Enhance the Security of Air-Gapped Networks
While air-gapped networks seem to be the epitome of network security, they’re not infallible.
Here are a few steps you should take to make your air-gapped networks as secure as possible.
- Keep a watch on removable media and devices such as laptops, modems, and VPNs. While air-gapped networks are isolated from external connections, we also want to make sure the devices inside those networks remain physically inaccessible as well; otherwise, it would defeat the purpose of having an air-gapped network.
- Develop strict policies over the implementation of air-gapped networks. Ask yourself where the network hardware should be placed, who can use it, and how. It’s also a great idea to limit access to air-gapped devices to only upper management, power users, and others when absolutely necessary.
- Have a strong monitoring policy and tools in place that can identify users who are misusing devices, overstepping data access, and sharing privileges.
- Create a network audit checklist. This can help you with tracking and enforcing policies for both devices and users on your air-gapped network.
Creating an air-gapped network can be quite easy, but maintaining business operations with one can be a challenge. However, by following the above steps, you can foolproof your air-gapped network.
Safeguard Your Highly Sensitive Data: Invest in an Air-Gapped Network
In a world where security breaches and data thefts are constantly hitting the news, investing in an air-gapped network seems like a logical step to take. Once an intruder finds a way into your company’s sensitive data, it might take weeks or even months to recover from a cyberattack.
So, if you have highly sensitive data on programs that don’t need to be accessed all the time, why not protect them using an air-gapped network?
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