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Knowledgebase

What Is an Air-Gapped Network?

Posted on May 20, 2021 9:36 am

About 43% of cyber attacks target small businesses. Meanwhile, about 1 in 40 small businesses are at risk of becoming victims of cybercrimes. Unfortunately, many small businesses aren’t prepared to handle these attacks.

If you’re worried about keeping your business safe this year, consider using an air-gapped network.

What is an air-gapped network, exactly, and how can it benefit your business? Keep reading to find out! In this guide, we’ll review everything you need to know about air-gapping for your business.

Get started with this comprehensive guide today.

What is Air-Gapping?

There’s another ransomware attack every 14 seconds. A malware attack could:

  • Cause you to lose customer data
  • Leave your business without valuable assets
  • Impact your productivity and increase downtown
  • Shut down your business

If you’re attacked, you’ll need to restore and delete hostage data. You’ll also need to consider your company’s reputation. Consumers might not trust you with their private information in the future.

You’ll need to re-establish normal business operations, open an investigation, and start training your employees. This entire process could impact your bottom line for months.

Instead, many companies are considering the benefits of using an air-gapped network.

What is an air-gapped network, exactly? 

Within an air-gapped network, all communications will become isolated from other internet networks. Think of it as a security firewall that can protect your sensitive data.

To transfer data within an air-gapped network, you’ll need to use removable data, like discs or USBs.

Air-gapping will isolate your business from the outside world. Many industries already use air-gapping, including:

  • Government
  • Military
  • Nuclear power plants
  • Industrial manufacturing
  • Financial services

Air-gapping allows these businesses to maintain an extra layer of security. When there’s a “gap” between your computer and the internet, attackers can’t get in. Hackers would need to “cross the gap” by physically accessing a computer within your network.

By creating an air-gapped computer system, you’ll remove all connections to other networks, computers, and unsecured systems. This will allow your team to work on sensitive business information, including financials. You won’t have to worry about the risk of keyloggers, malware, or ransomware.

Instead, you’ll remain offline as you work.

To maintain a true, air-gapped network, you’ll need to remain isolated from all internet-enabled devices.

Why Air-Gap a Network?

About 30,000 websites are hacked every day. Meanwhile, about 64% of companies worldwide have experienced at least one attack. Another 300,000 thousand new pieces of malware are created each day.

Meanwhile, it costs companies an average of $3.92 million to fix a breach.

By air-gapping a network, you can minimize your risk of a malware or ransomware attack.

There are two main reasons a company might consider using air-gapping. The first is to maintain security. The second is to work efficiently using low bandwidth.

Air-gapping is used by some of the most secure global institutions. This process can protect different types of critical systems, including government systems.

With the rise of cybercrime, air-gapping is becoming more popular. You can remain compliant while protecting sensitive applications and information. Many new industries have started using air-gapping, including:

  • Healthcare
  • Utilities
  • Banking

Otherwise, these industries could fall victim to malicious attacks. A cyber attack could impact your company’s productivity, reputation, and more. 

Industries That Benefit from Air-Gapping

Almost any company that wants to protect sensitive data can benefit from air-gapping. A few examples include:

  • Nuclear power plants
  • Military computer systems and networks
  • Life-critical systems used for medical equipment
  • Aviation computers (avionics and FADECs)
  • Payment networks for debit or credit card transactions
  • Government computer systems and networks
  • Industrial control systems (SCADA)
  • Financial computer systems and networks

If your company requires extra security, consider air-gapping.

For example, what about companies that process transactions for military networks, retailers, or industrial control systems? They can air-gap their network to ensure hackers can access these transactions.

You could also benefit from air-gapping if you want to conserve your bandwidth. Are you deploying apps in areas with low or no internet connectivity? Consider using air-gapping.

You can even demo new applications without internet access to improve your security.

Deploying apps in air-gapped environments allows companies to test their systems without plugging into the internet. You can remain invisible to the internet and hackers. 

Security teams can even use air-gapping to securely create an incident response plan. 

Cons to Air-Gapping

Unfortunately, air-gapping is a labor-intensive process. You’ll need to copy data to physical media, like a USB drive. To access the file, you’ll need to upload it to a closed system.

With air-gapping, you could sacrifice ease and speed in exchange for security.

If you don’t properly set up your air-gapping network, there’s a chance you’re still vulnerable to an attack, too.  

Establishing Air Gaps

To create an air gap within network architecture, you’ll need to physically remove the connection between live data and a backup. The gap will ensure your backup data remains offline. Outside parties like hackers won’t have access to your backups.

This can help you remove the risk of a ransomware attack. Otherwise, hackers can hold your data hostage.

They’ll require you to pay to have your data returned.

The air gap in network architecture model focuses on storing data or removable data. You can then transport the data from one secure location to another. For example, you could store your data on a backup disc.

The technology itself acts as your firewall. Hackers won’t have access to your sensitive data anymore. This is one of the easiest ways to thwart potential cyber-attacks. 

Is Air-Gapping Effective?

Air-gapping seems like a great idea, but is it effective?

There have been incidents in the past when an air-gapped network was infiltrated. For example, a worm known as Stuxnet disrupted operations in Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.

Transient devices like smartphones, laptops, and tablets could pose a risk, too. Some control engineers, maintenance, or contractors use wireless networks for ease and convenience. When they transfer data into or out of the air-gapped network, they disrupt the gap.

These indicate you can’t remain 100% air-gapped 24/7.

In some cases, air-gapping can create a false sense of security. It’s important to work with an experienced team that understands the importance of online security. They can help you develop a strategy with your company’s goals in mind. 

Complete a Risk Assessment

Are you worried data is coming in and out of your existing network? Are your employees, contractors, or vendors establishing external connections? You can take more control over your network to prevent hacks in the future.

First, consider what devices are on your network. How are these devices communicating, and how do they communicate to? Are there any external connections you need to consider?

You can monitor your network environment for abnormal behavior, including:

  • Communication pattern changes
  • Configuration changes
  • Exploitation of vulnerabilities
  • New/unexpected network connections

Then, you can determine which cases are impacting your operations. You’ll need to consider:

  • Cybersecurity incidents
  • Machine failure
  • Human error
  • Misconfigurations

If you’ve never completed a risk assessment before, consider working with an experienced team. They can help you determine potential vulnerabilities.

You can gather evidence of unsanctioned external connections. Though these connections are usually created for benign reasons, it pays to remain informed. You’ll need to track every unapproved, undocumented network connection.

Control engineers usually create these connections for maintenance or troubleshooting tasks. They’re usually intended for short-term uses. However, many engineers fail to remove these connections once they’re done.

They could leave your “air-gapped” network open to a vulnerability as a result.

You can work with a cybersecurity team to recognize these risks. They’ll review your environment for other potential weaknesses. With their help, you can make a list of potential remediation recommendations to consider.

Alternatives

If you’ve decided an air-gapped network isn’t right for you, consider a secure cloud backup account instead. You can back up your files to a cloud and ensure they’re encrypted.

Air-gapping could create an impenetrable defense between your files and virus infections or hackers. However, you must create an air-gap perfectly. Even one small human error could leave your system vulnerable. 

Ransomware could slip in and infect your entire system.

Cloud backups, on the other hand, are more resilient to human error. When you send data to the cloud, the connection is only live for the backup. Then, the access key is removed.

Ransomware won’t have time to seize your software or upload itself to your cloud system.

In fact, your cloud providers can keep safeguards in place to detect unnatural activity on your account. They’ll let you know if there’s a deletion request or strange activity. With cloud security, you’ll have an added buffer between yourself and an attack.

When the system detects ransomware, you can react right away.

An immediate reaction can help you avoid costly mistakes as soon as possible. Instead, you can get your systems back up-and-running. You can rely on your backups to maximize your security plans for the year. 

Mind the (Air) Gap: Your Guide to a Business Air-Gapped Network 

To recap, what is an air-gapped network? It’s a system that’s completely disconnected from the internet and other devices. Air-gapping could help you maintain the utmost security.

It’s important to make sure you air-gap your network properly, though.

Looking for more ways to improve your security? We’re here to help. 

Contact us today to get started.

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