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Modern-day Networks

Modern-day networks are complex combinations of a series of crucial components. These include routers, switches, firewalls, and servers. In addition, there are cloud-based resources such as virtual machines, hypervisors, and containers. All of these elements are present and interconnected.

To secure a network, each of these components must be carefully monitored. When hackers and other malicious actors know the complexity and resulting visibility challenges complex networks present, they are quick to exploit an organization’s infrastructure. Each component of a modern-day network increases the attack surface

Further, if any of these devices fails, network performance can be hindered, so staying on top of the performance of each element of the network is critical to the smooth, uninterrupted production of an organization.

The Need for Network Monitoring

Networks are becoming increasingly crucial. Many employees have started working from home. Keeping everyone connected and productive demands a safe, responsive, and reliable network. Without network monitoring, your system is like a vehicle with no warning lights or alarms. Something can go wrong, and things may seem fine at first. But soon, the problem can bring everything to a halt. Network monitoring can prevent this from happening.

The impact of network issues has several negative repercussions. These include:

  1. Disruption of business
  2. Loss of revenue
  3. Damage to your reputation
  4. Loss of sensitive customer data

Methods of Network Monitoring

There are several different kinds of network monitoring tools and techniques available on the market. Each method implements different technology to ensure you have deeper visibility into your network. The methods include periodic status checking, checking tool logs, network monitoring protocols, Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), packet sniffing, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Secure Shell (SSH) for Unix, and NetFlow.

Periodic Status Checking

Periodic status checking involves monitoring your network at predetermined intervals of time. When you set these up, they can relieve some of the load from the parameter or network device that is being monitored, particularly when there are other components in the network, such as servers, that can handle some of the load of the overburdened device. 

Checking the availability of the different network components is equally important. This should be done as frequently as possible, preferably every minute or more often. You can also monitor how a central processing unit (CPU) is performing and the ways in which disk space is being used. While it can be helpful to gather a lot of data on each device, the minimum necessary interval must be determined on a component-by-component basis. In this way, the monitoring process is less likely to add unnecessary burden to the network.

Checking Tool Logs

Each tool that runs on a network can typically generate logs. These are produced at intervals and can be checked to diagnose—or even predict—problems. When a tool log displays a potential issue, administrators can use it to pinpoint the nature of the problem as well as gather other critical intelligence regarding the issue. 

For example, a tool log, because it has a time stamp, can be compared with that of another tool that may have displayed abnormal behavior at the same time. Further, if issues are happening in sequence, you can use tool logs to backtrack, hunting down the problem at its source.

Network Monitoring Protocols

There are several network monitoring protocols that can be used in a network monitoring system. When used correctly, they can reduce the impact the monitoring process has on the network. SNMP and command-line interface (CLI) work with Linux and Windows servers, making them convenient options for admins.

SNMP

SNMP refers to a specific device protocol that allows you to monitor the network using a system of tools and nodes with the help of common language. Within each device, there is an agent that presents information to the managers and the tools they use for monitoring. The SNMP manager is able to transmit polls to the devices on the network. The devices respond with information regarding their status.

Packet Sniffing

Packet sniffing, also known as packet analyzing, refers to a program or hardware device that acts as a network traffic monitor and is able to intercept traffic and then log it. In this way, a packet sniffer can detect malicious or otherwise harmful traffic and play a role in protecting the network.

WMI for Windows

WMI is software that makes it easier to access information regarding the devices operating within an enterprise’s network. This protocol can create an interface for an operating system that can obtain information from devices running a WMI computer program (agent) that collects details pertaining to the operating system, its software, or its hardware. 

WMI can also report on the properties and status of local or remote systems, security and configuration information, as well as information pertaining to the various processes and services occurring within the network.

SSH for Unix

SSH is common to Unix/Linux systems. It can create a secure tunnel, complete with encryption, that the devices and network management software can use to interact. When an admin presents a port number combination, username, and password, they can be authenticated and granted access. 

NetFlow

NetFlow examines packets of data as they pass through a section of the network. NetFlow uses probes that grab the data before channeling it through a monitoring tool to be analyzed. The analytical process studies the traffic, taking note of how it flows and how much there is. This information is used to determine the ways in which data moves as it travels through the network. 

NetFlow and similar systems work by analyzing the interactions between different devices. If data is not traveling as it should between devices, NetFlow can produce an alert that admins can use to address the issue.

Features of Network Monitoring Tools

Network monitoring tools, despite their differences, use the same basic procedures to assist admins with maintaining the health of the network. These include discovery, mapping, monitoring, reporting, and alerting.

Discovery

The first step in the network monitoring process is discovery. Discovery tells you which components are connected to the network, as well as how they are connected. This may include switches, routers, firewalls, printers, servers, and other devices. Monitoring systems engage in the discovery process using a library that includes monitoring templates. These tell the system how to monitor each device.

The parameters that are monitored will vary depending on the device and its manufacturer. This is because devices will function according to how the manufacturer has programmed it as well as its unique features.

A network monitoring system will also be able to tell you which ports devices are using to connect and which devices they are connected to. This can be important when trying to track down an issue that impacts several devices that are interconnected to a single problematic component, such as a server or switch.

映射

Network monitoring solutions can generate maps that lay out the ways in which devices are connected, as well as the ports each one uses to connect to its neighbors. This is a critical element of the monitoring process because if an admin has to look at a physical mess of wires and ports, it can get confusing very quickly. With a network map, the admin can benefit from a mapped abstraction of the network, zooming in and out as they see fit, giving them a precise and easy way to interpret the layout of the entire system.

However, at first, mapping the network may take some time. The admin may have to use their knowledge of the connections within the system to manually enter each device and its connections.

監控

The monitoring aspect of the process begins with focusing on the five most important elements of a network’s performance. These include CPU performance, memory, disk utilization, latency and ping availability, and interface utilization.

報告

Reporting is crucial because it gives network admins the information they need to make adjustments and improvements. The reporting process includes current and historical data made available in an interface or dashboard that the admin can easily manage to glean insights.

Reporting is also an integral part of making sure that the way the network was designed is effective. If there are problems with the present configuration, the reports generated can help the admin hone in on problematic components or processes. Generally speaking, the reporting process can also be customized according to the admin’s needs and adjusted to suit specific objectives.

Alerting

When something goes awry in a network, a network monitoring service can let the admin know through alerts. Alerts may include those that depend on thresholds and performance metrics.

A threshold alert is triggered when data crosses a predetermined level. For example, a threshold can be set to provide an alert if a certain amount of memory is being consumed in an area of the network. If, for instance, 75% of memory is being used at any given moment, the monitoring system can send an alert to the admin. The admin can then use that information to diagnose the problem, perhaps by examining which processes are consuming the most memory.

Performance metrics are the next step in the utilization of threshold alerts. A performance metric will typically incorporate a period of time in the reporting process. For example, if 90% of CPU power is being consumed for 15 minutes straight, this performance metric can trigger an alert. The admin can then investigate and troubleshoot any problems.

Types of Network Monitoring Tools

Agentless Network Monitoring Tools

An agentless network monitoring tool is usually kept on-premises. It can be a workstation or server that has a physical connection to the network. Once it is connected, it has to be provided with all of the access privileges it needs to get into and observe the services it is going to monitor. 

This means the agentless tool does not have to be installed on every single device on the network. It also can discover devices automatically and then divide them into categories. This saves admins time and effort. The downside is that agentless monitoring tools tend to require a system dedicated to their performance. If there is not enough processing power to run an agentless system’s software, you may have to procure a machine just to power it.

Agent-based Network Monitoring Tools

With agent-based network monitoring software, much of the solution follows a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) architecture. Instead of using physical systems connected to your network, you are given access to software that runs online. An agent-based system involves dedicating an agent, which is a monitoring program, to each device on the network. This gives each agent a considerable amount of access to your hardware, resulting in a lot of detailed information about each one. 

However, this also means you have to install an agent on every device you have to monitor. This can be time-consuming, and it can also result in conflicts. For example, if the device you want to monitor does not support the operating system the agent software needs to be installed, the incompatibility can disrupt your monitoring process.

How Fortinet Can Help

FortiEDR provides you with a comprehensive endpoint security and management solution. FortiEDR uses machine learning to power an anti-malware system. With machine learning, FortiEDR is able to detect anomalous behavior that may signal a threat. When this is discovered in an endpoint, the threat can be mitigated instantly. 

FortiEDR also provides post-infection protection in real time. This enables FortiEDR to not only stop threats but detect them as they try to infiltrate devices that have already been infected. All this happens in real time, saving admins the time they would normally have to invest in tending to devices made vulnerable due to infection.

FortiEDR is able to control communications being sent from devices, as well as individual file systems, to prevent the exfiltration of data. In addition, FortiEDR can prevent the lateral movement of threats, stopping them from infecting other devices on the network. FortiEDR also stops file tampering and ransomware attacks from impacting your system.

Because FortiEDR uses automation, the time it takes to hunt down and respond to threats is greatly reduced. In the event of a breach, FortiEDR enables admins and security teams to focus their efforts instead of wasting time chasing down false positives. Even though some monitoring solutions, such as certain agent-based options, may not be able to work with your operating system, FortiEDR can protect systems from a broad range of operating systems, whether they are virtual machines, servers, embedded systems, or legacy operating systems.

FAQs

Why is network monitoring important?

Networks are becoming increasingly crucial. Many employees have started working from home. Keeping everyone connected and productive demands a safe, responsive, and reliable network. Without network monitoring, your system would be much like a vehicle with no warning lights or alarms. Something could go wrong, and things may seem fine at first. But soon, the problem can bring everything to a halt. Network monitoring can prevent this from happening.

The impact of network issues has several negative repercussions. These include:

  1. Disruption of business
  2. Loss of revenue
  3. Damage to your reputation
  4. Loss of sensitive customer data

How do network monitoring tools work?

The methods include periodic status checking, checking tool logs, network monitoring protocols, Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), packet sniffing, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Secure Shell (SSH) for Unix, and NetFlow.

What are the features of network monitoring tools?

The features of network monitoring tools include discovery, mapping, monitoring, reporting, and alerting.