Network security monitoring has become a complicated task because of the wide range of attack vectors that hackers now have at their disposal.
New attack strategies appear regularly, making traditional system defense software ineffective. A better strategy is to deploy security monitoring systems that don’t rely on a process of pattern matching.
Old security tools that just compare packet content to a list of known strategies quickly become outdated and need to be updated constantly. Smarter network security tools assess regular activities on a network and then lookout for anything that is different, which is called an anomaly. These AI-based tools are more sustainable in the ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity.
Here is our list of the nine best network security tools:
- SolarWinds Security Event Manager EDITOR’S CHOICE A real-time incident detection and response system that is based on log file analysis. It installs on Windows Server.
- ManageEngine Vulnerability Manager Plus A vulnerability scanner packaged together with a patch manager, configuration manager, access rights controls, and password manager. It installs on Windows environments.
- OSSEC A free open-source host-based intrusion detection system that includes the option of automated threat remediation. It installs on Windows, Linux, macOS, and Unix.
- Intruder.io A SaaS automated vulnerability scanner with the option of on-demand scans and human penetration testing.
- Nessus Vulnerability Scanner A security tool that seeks out vulnerabilities in hardware configurations and software versions. It installs on Windows, Linux, macOS, and Free BSD.
- OWASP ZAP A web application security system that scans web pages for known threats and examined web servers for configuration and access control weaknesses.
- Zscaler Cloud Firewall A cloud-based network security service that is ideal for virtual offices.
- Burp Suite A collection of penetration testing tools and a vulnerability scanner that attempts a range of simulated hacker attacks on a network. It installs on Windows, Linux, and macOS.
- Teramind DLP A data loss prevention system that scans for sensitive data and watches user activities to aid compliance with data security standards.
Network Security Tools Categories
There are a number of different approaches that can be taken towards protecting a network and each strategy requires its own set of tools. These tools and strategies are:
- Firewall – block all known attacks at the boundary of the network.
- Reverse firewall – for data loss prevention.
- Intrusion prevention systems/SIEMs – catch anomalous behavior on the network that the firewall missed.
- VPN/edge services – protect all onsite resources by channeling internet traffic through an external proxy server.
- Endpoint Detection and Response – use endpoints as security monitoring stations to identify malicious activity on the network.
This shows that there are four physical locations that can be utilized to monitor network security:
- Offsite with an edge service
- At the network boundary with a firewall
- On the network by packet sniffing
- On endpoints with EDR software
Network security strategies
Thorough network managers are advised to use a combination of tactics. This is because even the most reliable security system can be bypassed. By implementing several strategies, you will cover every possible security threat. For example, a firewall will block known infected software from entering the network but it won’t stop a disgruntled employee from mailing out your client list to a rival.
Blended strategies require preparedness as well as blocks on malware, malicious activity monitoring, attack shutdown, and system reviews. You need to implement network security by:
- tightening up vulnerabilities to reduce risk
- controlling access to the network
- monitoring traffic to spot attacks in progress
- take action to stop an attack
- reviewing data to identify past attacks that slipped through the net
- and adjusting the security and monitoring systems according to past experience
The best network security tools
As there are so many different network security tasks and tools for each of them, this review lists exceptional tools that fall into each of the defense strategies that you will need to deploy. None of them cover every aspect of system security, so you will need to implement several of them.
You can read more about each of these security tools in the following sections.
The Security Event Manager from SolarWinds is a SIEM system that scans events on a network and watches out for anomalies that are indicated by a live threat intelligence feed. This network security tool extends to all devices connected to the network. It collects all log messages and manages their layout, creating a common format. Those records are then filed while also being analyzed by the tool.
The message checking service receives live reporting information from all points on the system. As these records are processed, the Security Event Manager scans for signs of intrusion or other malicious activity. Some typical attacks can be spotted by looking at one event, while others are only made apparent by a pattern of seemingly unrelated incidences. So, in order to provide a full network security service, the tool works both on live data and historical records.
In order to reduce the incidences of “false positive” reporting, the Security Event Manager makes a record of normal traffic patterns and activities. This is an AI-based machine learning technique known as User and Entity Behavior Analysis (UEBA).
As well as detecting suspicious activity, the Security Event Manager is able to implement actions to close it down. This service takes the form of blocking communications from specified IP addresses or suspending a user account that appears to have been hijacked. The mitigation automation is activated by the user, so it can be left to just an alert if you want to investigate a problem before implementing a solution manually.
SolarWinds Security Event Manager runs on Windows Server and it is available on a 30-day free trial.
SolarWinds Security Event Manager is our top pick for a network security tool because it covers all elements of IT infrastructure by exploiting the built-in reporting features of each component. Threat intelligence feeds, combined with machine learning ensure that this system will trap all of the latest threats without impairing system availability to genuine users.
Start 30-day Free Trial: solarwinds.com/security-event-manager
OS: Windows 10 and later, Windows Server 2012 and later, Cloud-based: Hypervisor, AWS and MS Azure
Vulnerability scanning is an essential preventative network security task. There are many ongoing maintenance tasks that network managers need to conduct and some of these are necessary in order to keep the system secure.
Apart from vulnerability scans, you need to keep all operating systems patched and software updates applied. These patches and updates are often written in order to address newly discovered “exploits.” ManageEngine Vulnerability Manager Plus includes a Patch Manager to keep your software secure. It also has a Configuration Manager that standardizes the setup of network devices and blocks unauthorized changes. Configuration management is another important task to keep a network secure.
Vulnerability Manager Plus combines vulnerability scanning with tools to address issues that the scan identifies. These extend to access rights analysis and password management features. Other tools include firewall auditing and service hardening, such as browser security enhancements.
ManageEngine offers Vulnerability Manager Plus in three editions: Free, Professional, and Enterprise. The Free version will manage networks connecting up to 25 computers. The Professional edition doesn’t have the system limit and it also has specialized processes for managing the security of servers. That version only covers the network on one site; the Enterprise edition is designed to serve WANs.
The software for Vulnerability Manager Plus installs on Windows and Windows Server and you can get it on a 30-day free trial.
OSSEC is a Host-based Intrusion Detection System (HIDS). This type of security strategy examines log files for signs of malicious activity. OSSEC stands for “Open Source HIDS Security.” It is a free system but is owned by TrendMicro.
The OSSEC system works on a databank of detection rules. These are called “policies” and they can be written by the user or acquired from other users for free through a community listing website and message board. The user community is also the primary source for help and tips on using OSSEC. The lack of a professional support system for the tool might put off some corporate users. However, Trend Micro offers support contracts for a fee.
Existing policies can be adapted and set up to trigger actions, which gives the service the power to automate attack mitigation. Typical actions include interfacing to firewalls in order to block access to specific IP addresses or update the access rights manager to block user accounts. This possibility makes OSSEC an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS).
A big problem with OSSEC is that it doesn’t have a user interface. However, it is easy to set it up to feed data to Kibana or Graylog. OSSEC installs on Windows, Linux, macOS, and Unix.
Intruder.io is a cloud-based security tool that performs constant vulnerability checks on a monitored system. On enrollment, Intruder.io performs an extensive system sweep, highlighting security issues. Thereafter, the service will recheck the monitored system whenever it receives updated threat information, which occurs once a month.
Threat updates trigger new sweeps automatically. However new hardware or software in the system does not get detected, so those system tests need to be launched manually.
Intruder.io is charged for by subscription and is available in three editions: Essential, Pro, and Verified. The Essential plan doesn’t include on-demand testing, so administrators who add new software or hardware will need to wait for the monthly scan in order to get those new services checked. The Pro plan includes both automatic and on-demand scans and the Verified edition includes the services of human penetration testers.
Intruder.io is offered on a 30-day free trial.
Nessus is one of the leading vulnerability scanners. Its system sweeps check both hardware and software. The tool particularly focuses on device configurations, open ports, and password controls. The system monitors server processes and network traffic, looking for abnormalities.
Nessus is available in three editions: Nessus Essentials, Nessus Professional, and Tenable.io. The Essentials version is free to use; it will monitor up to 16 IP addresses and it is community supported. Nessus Professional has no limit on the number of devices that it will scan; it adds configuration assessments and a reporting module. This edition is community supported but has a professional support add-on.
Tenable.io is a cloud-based managed service and includes full support. The two paid versions are charged for by subscription. You can get a 7-day free trial of Nessus Professional or a 30-day free trial of Tenable.io.
OWASP ZAP is an open-source project that is a fork of Paros Proxy – another very popular network security tool. OWASP stands for Open Web Security Project and ZAP is short for Zed Attack Proxy.
Despite acting as a proxy, this system is a remote service. It is downloadable software that you need to host yourself. The purpose of the system is to protect a web system from hacker interference. The method of this service is to analyze a web page, looking for SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and cross-site request forgery (CSRF) attacks. It also scans for faulty authentication and session management, system configuration weaknesses, poor access control, unprotected APIs, known vulnerabilities, and sensitive data exposure.
This network security software is free to use and is extensible by plug-ins, which are also available for free. Those add-ons as well as tips and support are available from the user community. The software runs on Windows, macOS, Linux, and BSD Unix.
Zscaler is a “firewall as a service” (FWaaS). It runs as an edge service and can monitor a distributed fleet of devices. You don’t need to limit the application of this service to one network in one building. The service creates a virtual network that can extend across the internet to reach its users wherever they are.
The Zscaler methodology is to protect the connections between a community of users. It doesn’t need those connections to be over a single network – it will protect communications over the internet to anywhere, so it is great for companies that use a lot of home-based telecommuters. It is also very easy to grant system access to BYOD users with the Zscaler service.
All of the processing and anomaly detection of the Zscaler system is run on the service’s host; only a small agent program needs to be installed on protected devices. Essentially, Zscaler creates a virtual network through a series of VPNs. However, the service is more complicated than a VPN because it implements security policies as well as enforcing connection privacy.
Burp Suite is a collection of cybersecurity tools that are useful for penetration testing (pen testing). The suite also features a vulnerability scanner for automated network security sweeps. The key strategy of Burp Suite is to simulate an attack on a network and then list the access attempts that proved successful. The results of this exercise can then be investigated further.
There is a Community Edition of Burp Suite that is free to use. This version of the software does not include access to a professional support team, so users have to rely on the community for advice. The Community Edition doesn’t include automated tools, such as the vulnerability scanner.
There are two paid versions of Burp Suite. The Professional Edition includes more sophisticated tools for pen testing and also the web vulnerability scanner. The highest version is called Enterprise. This includes repeated vulnerability scanning and scheduling for network security sweeps. This version can also be used for software testing during development.
Burp Suite is available for installation on Windows, Linux, and macOS. There is no free trial of the vulnerability scanner, but you could access the Community Edition to get a feel for the style of operations of Burp Suite before buying.
Teramind DLP is a data security tool that is an important data protection system for those businesses that need to get standards accreditation. The Teramind data loss prevention system is written to the PCI DSS, HIPAA, ISO 27001, and GDPR standards.
The Teramind system aims to spot insider threats and block data disclosure. The type of data that has been selected from the settings will be searched across the network to find all instances of that data type. Those data stores are then tracked very closely.
Insider threat protection involves a constant scan of user activities on the network and company-provided applications. The system monitors emails and other communications, looking for data disclosures. Users that are identified as potential data leakers can then be monitored more closely with extra tools, such as a keystroke logger.