February 6, 2024
9 min read

What Role Does Microsegmentation Play in Zero Trust Security?


With digital transformation shifting networks into the cloud — from remote workforces to online banking — cyberattacks are growing more prevalent and sophisticated. Legacy security models like VPNs and perimeter-based firewalls are proving inadequate in addressing modern threats because perimeters are becoming harder to define. In addition, security threats are increasingly coming from inside the house, meaning that security teams need to be vigilant about securing policies inside the perimeter.

Zero Trust security frameworks are the best solution for securing hybrid or multi-cloud environments. They mandate continuous validation of entities attempting to access an application, platform, or resource group — safeguarding the network from the inside out. But, you can't have Zero Trust without a microsegmentation strategy to manage network access between workloads and limit traffic based on least privilege. 

Read on to learn how Zero Trust and microsegmentation work together to reduce the attack surface and prevent security breaches for impenetrable networks.

What is microsegmentation?

Microsegmentation is an advanced network security technique that divides a network into small, definable segments to better control how entities access data and applications. It enhances security by creating a more granular segregation of network zones and isolating workloads, applications, and sensitive data.

In the past, companies relied on flat networks, which meant that any entity inside the security perimeter could move laterally to access all data in that network. Microsegmentation prevents this issue because it limits or restricts unnecessary lateral communication flows between segments. Even if an entity does make it into one zone, it must be reverified to access a different zone. Organizations can also tailor security policies to each individual workload to completely control asset exposure and incident responses.

Microsegmentation standardizes security for both private and public clouds — and comes with a host of other benefits. Beyond attack surface reduction and improved lateral movement security, it establishes granular security rules and policies that align with application logic. It also uses advanced analytics modeling for data flows, which can improve overall application performance. Lastly, because microsegmentation can store regulated data in segments, it can help organizations achieve and maintain regulatory compliance. 

What is Zero Trust security?

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is a security framework that operates on Zero Trust principles — or, “never trust, always verify.” Zero Trust methodology means that no entity, whether network, device, or user, is automatically granted access to company resources or data. Instead, every entity must be reverified when attempting to access a different network zone or resource group.

While VPN security solutions trust everything inside a perimeter, ZTNA solutions create individual context-based perimeters around data that restrict access on the assumption of least privilege. Entities cannot access data or resources until the ZTNA provider contextually verifies login information, authenticates their identity, and confirms with security policies.

These strict security measures ensure that entities can only access the specified resource group for which they are approved. For example, networks give remote workers resource-specific permissions on a case-by-case basis, taking into account contextual factors like location, role, IP address, and restrictions.

Microsegmentation is a nonnegotiable strategy in the Zero Trust framework because it segments networks, infrastructure, and resource groups into secure zones with granular security policies. 

How microsegmentation supports a Zero Trust framework

As mentioned earlier, the elemental rule in a Zero Trust framework is to always verify entities before granting them access. Microsegmentation fits into this framework because it limits zone communication based on application requirements — preventing attackers from compromising entire networks.

While ZTNA is a security model, microsegmentation is a best practice that reduces attack surface by establishing a perimeter around each workload or zone, so your security teams can immediately flag, locate, and address threats in a timely manner. 

In other words, microsegmentation isolates distributed environments, workloads, and applications so administrators can implement granular security policies on a Zero Trust framework. They can also tailor these security policies to multiple groups and applications in dynamic and flat environments. When deployed alongside Zero Trust, microsegmentation ensures that only authorized users can access a set of data or resources and prevents lateral movement in the event of a data breach. 

There are several different microsegmentation models based on the network layer you prefer. 

  • Network-based microsegmentation — Security teams implement this model using network devices as policy enforcement points. Network-based microsegmentation is the most common technique since networking equipment is typically already deployed in an organization's infrastructure, but it does not achieve a fine level of granularity — thus increasing the attack surface. 
  • Hypervisor-based microsegmentation — This model of microsegmentation relies on hypervisor devices instead of network devices to divide zones and workloads into segments. Security teams don't need to change the network hardware to use this technique, but it provides weak support for certain workloads and environments.
  • Host-based microsegmentation — In this model, the administrator installs an agent within each endpoint to deploy across clouds and environments. A native firewall functionality in the operating system allows for granular segmentation and visibility of all processes, data, network communications, and threats. The technique is built on Zero Trust architecture, which allows it to automatically create segments and security policies based on an organization's specific needs. The catch is that you need to install an agent on every host.

So, how is microsegmentation practically deployed within a Zero Trust framework? One popular use case is hybrid cloud management since microsegmentation can protect applications deployed across hybrid environments by implementing standardized security policies — even when there are multiple data centers and service providers at play.

Administrators also use microsegmentation to make testing environments safer by separating them from production systems (or limiting connections between the two). Lastly, microsegmentation provides an additional security wall against threats that jeopardize confidential data, allowing teams to respond faster and with greater accuracy. 

How can you implement microsegmentation?

Factors to consider

Making the switch to a microsegmentation strategy is one of the most worthwhile security moves for your organization, but there are a few factors to keep in mind. 

First, you should carefully analyze your network architecture and take stock of its devices and applications, data flows, and traffic patterns. After documenting your network architecture, you can begin using your security policies to define smaller security zones — but be aware that this adds complexity to your environment, so you need to implement strict organization to manage granular access. 

In the future, whenever you need to improve security without impacting access or operations, you should make decisions about your policies with risks and values in mind, to balance both granularity and configuration.

Finally, to ensure that your microsegmentation strategy doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, establish roles and responsibilities amongst your teams so your framework has proper ownership.

A step-by-step guide to implementing microsegmentation

1. Make Zero Trust a priority

Zero Trust frameworks can help catapult companies to a more streamlined and effective security model, but the initial setup requires deep technical knowledge. Establishing a dedicated team to plan and implement your migration to Zero Trust makes a world of difference. As part of this process, you should define roles for managing Zero Trust deployments, such as application and data security, network and infrastructure security, and user and device security. Consider also assigning specific positions for operations and risk management.

2. Choose a zero-trust implementation on-ramp

This step requires careful evaluation because Zero Trust frameworks have three main on-ramps. While all three will connect to your deployment down the line, an organization typically begins from one, so you should choose wisely. The three on-ramp options are user and device identity, applications and data, and the network — each of which takes a different approach depending on the focus of your environment.

3. Evaluate the environment

Preemptively reviewing the controls in place across the environment where Zero Trust is deployed will simplify your setup. This process can help determine which Zero Trust resources and security controls your organization already has installed, including factors like their locations, granularity levels, and knowledge gaps. Think of this step as a cybersecurity audit to prepare the way for Zero Trust.

4. Review the available and emerging technologies

Once you’ve completed your assessment, review the available and emerging technologies for the Zero Trust on-ramp of your choice. This information will help you understand the technologies and methodologies you still need to build out your security framework and policies.

5. Launch your Zero Trust initiative

After you compare the technologies you need with the technologies you have, you can develop and prioritize tasks for your initiatives — which may include obtaining new equipment, upgrading existing network infrastructure, or deploying microservices authentication. Now that you have a plan in place, you can finally launch your initiative!

6. Assess security operational changes

When you migrate to Zero Trust, you may notice that your security operations change quite a bit. Previously manual tasks suddenly become automated, creating an adjustment period while your teams acclimate. Be sure to document such changes and modify your processes where necessary.

7. Continuously monitor your technology

With Zero Trust now in place, assign roles to your teams so you can keep an eye on the technologies and assess their security value. For example, you should track the time it takes to contain incidents in order to assess how effective your microsegmentation and Zero Trust deployments are. Adjust as needed, and keep repeating the process.

Challenges associated with microsegmentation

Like other areas of digital transformation, implementing microsegmentation doesn't come without difficulties. Below are a few common challenges organizations face when making the transition.

  • Visibility — Microsegmentation provides advantageous, granular visibility into the network, but understanding the interactions between segments can be both difficult and confusing at first. Deep technical knowledge is needed to properly monitor security threats and performance problems across the network. Consider investing in ongoing monitoring and management tools for your deployment. 
  • Policy management — Defining and managing security policies for each segment can be a time-consuming task that requires a high level of expertise. Vulnerable security policies can open the door for malicious threats or performance issues. To tackle this problem, you should enlist policy experts or security consultant teams with the right skills and knowledge to aid your transition.
  • Scalability — As workloads, services, and segments increase with microsegmentation, your deployment becomes more complex. There are more policies to manage and standardize across a large number of segments, which can be challenging. Consider deploying network automation and virtualization technology, such as NFV or SDN.
  • Complexity — As we've stated, microsegmentation requires technical knowledge of applications, data flows, and network architecture. It’s important to have team members or outside consultants who understand how the deployment works at a granular level to ensure that it continues to meet your organization’s security and performance goals.

Evaluating different microsegmentation tools

Now that we’ve discussed how to implement microsegmentation, let’s take a closer look at how to evaluate popular tools on the market.

Features to look for

  • Unified policy framework and management – Strong policy management control features allow administrators to define and implement granular security rules that govern network segment communications. By housing these features under a single framework, teams can easily gain visibility into traffic and block unauthorized communications — minimizing the attack surface and ensuring compliance.

  • Dynamic segmentation – Microsegmentation tools that segment workloads based on data and labels enable administrators to securely deploy new or updated workloads without needing to update or add existing segmentation policies.

  • Automation — Automation capabilities enhance the overall efficiency of microsegmentation because they reduce the risk of administrator error and provide standardized enforcement. They also help security teams identify and respond to security threats much faster.

  • Traffic monitoring and analysis — Real-time traffic monitoring and analysis are two of the biggest perks of microsegmenrtation because they facilitate quick threat detection and response. Tools that prioritize these features offer the best overall protection.

  • Distributed architecture – Cloud native architecture in microsegmentation helps enforce changes across hybrid and multi-cloud environments that improve performance. With this feature, you can auto-scale your microservices environment and more granularly control policy changes.


Zero Trust frameworks are the future of cloud security, and microsegmentation is an integral technique to help meet the dynamic security needs of organizations. Microsegmentation integrates Zero Trust into existing infrastructures and provides more consistent, fine-tuned, and scalable application security.

With Kong Mesh, you can implement Zero Trust into your applications with precise microsegmentation to control traffic, identify security threats, and enforce security policies in one easy-to-use platform. 

But don’t just take our word for it. Request a demo today!