What is a DMZ Network?

cybersecurity-san-diegoIn computer security, a DMZ Network (sometimes referred to as a “demilitarized zone”) functions as a subnetwork containing an organization’s exposed, outward-facing services. It acts as the exposed point to an untrusted networks, commonly the Internet.

The goal of a DMZ is to add an extra layer of security to an organization’s local area network. A protected and monitored network node that faces outside the internal network can access what is exposed in the DMZ, while the rest of the organization’s network is safe behind a firewall.

When implemented properly, a DMZ Network gives organizations extra protection in detecting and mitigating security breaches before they reach the internal network, where valuable assets are stored.

Purpose of a DMZ

The DMZ Network exists to protect the hosts most vulnerable to attack. These hosts usually involve services that extend to users outside of the local area network, the most common examples being email, web servers, and DNS servers. Because of the increased potential for attack, they are placed into the monitored subnetwork to help protect the rest of the network if they become compromised.

Hosts in the DMZ have tightly controlled access permissions to other services within the internal network, because the data passed through the DMZ is not as secure. On top of that, communications between hosts in the DMZ and the external network are also restricted to help increase the protected border zone. This allows hosts in the protected network to interact with the internal and external network, while the firewall separates and manages all traffic shared between the DMZ and the internal network. Typically, an additional firewall will be responsible for protecting the DMZ from exposure to everything on the external network.

All services accessible to users on communicating from an external network can and should be placed in the DMZ, if one is used. The most common services are:

Web servers: Web servers responsible for maintaining communication with an internal database server may need to be placed into a DMZ. This helps ensure the safety of the internal database, which is often storing sensitive information. The web servers can then interact with internal database server through an application firewall or directly, while still falling under the umbrella of the DMZ protections.

Mail servers: individual email messages, as well as the user database built to store login credentials and personal messages, are usually stored on servers without direct access to the internet. Therefore, an email server will be built or placed inside the DMZ in order to interact with and access the email database without directly exposing it to potentially harmful traffic.

FTP servers: These can host critical content on an organization’s site, and allow direct interaction with files. Therefore, an FTP server should always be partially isolated from critical internal systems.

A DMZ configuration provides additional security from external attacks, but it typically has no bearing on internal attacks such as sniffing communication via a packet analyzer or spoofing via email or other means.

DMZ Designs

There are numerous ways to construct a network with a DMZ. The two major methods are a single firewall (sometimes called a three-legged model), or dual firewalls. Each of these system can be expanded to create complex architectures built to satisfy network requirements:

Single firewall: A modest approach to network architecture involves using a single firewall, with a minimum of 3 network interfaces. The DMZ will be placed Inside of this firewall. The tier of operations is as follows: the external network device makes the connection from the ISP, the internal network is connected by the second device, and connections within the DMZ is handled by the third network device.

Dual firewall: The more secure approach is to use two firewalls to create a DMZ. The first firewall (referred to as the “frontend” firewall) is configured to only allow traffic destined for the DMZ. The second firewall (referred to as the “backend” firewall) is only responsible for the traffic that travels from the DMZ to the internal network. An effective way of further increasing protection is to use firewall-installation-and-configuration built by separate vendors, because they are less likely to have the same security vulnerabilities. While more effective, this scheme can be more costly to implement across a large network.

Why DMZ Networks are Important

On many home networks, internet enabled devices are built around a local area network which accesses the internet from a broadband router. However, the router serves as both a connection point and a firewall, automating traffic filtering to ensure only safe messages enter the local area network. So, on a home network, a DMZ can built by adding a dedicated firewall, between the local area network and the router. While more expensive, this structure can help to protect internal devices from sophisticated attacks better protects the inside devices from possible attacks by the outside.

DMZ’s are an essential part of network security for both individual users and large organizations. They provides an extra layer of security to the computer network by restricting remote access to internal servers and information, which can be very damaging if breached.