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SecurityTrails Blog · Dec 03 · SecurityTrails team

What is Data Center Security? Top 5 Best Practices

Reading time: 8 minutes

Cloud computing and technology have truly revolutionized the way we collect, process and store data. Organizations are increasingly moving their entire infrastructure to the cloud, storing their information in safe, encrypted data centers.

That doesn’t mean data security is no longer a concern. Because data centers hold sensitive and valuable content, they need to be firmly secured, both physically and virtually.

With security engraved into data their architecture, by default data centers should be safe—but even with all regulations and security policies met, they’re still highly complex environments. Many components need to be assessed before you decide on a facility.

That’s why today’s article takes a good look at data center security. We’ll share exactly what it is and what are the security practices data centers should have to make your data safe.

What is data center security?

Before we answer that question, let’s find out what a “data center” is.

A data center is a space or facility dedicated to storing an organization’s entire IT infrastructure. Such a facility offers various services such as organizing, processing and storing data, data recovery, backup and more. Essentially, data centers store the most critical systems and data vital for the operation of that organization, so keeping these facilities secure is a top priority.

Data center security alludes to the practices, policies, measures and technologies used for both physical and virtual protection of the facility. Security measures need to protect data centers from both external and internal threats. Data loss, data alteration and corruption, DDoS attacks, SQL injection, eavesdropping, tailgating, theft of intellectual property and other types of cyber crime pose a constant threat to data center infrastructure.

Here are some basic considerations for data center effectiveness:

  • Physical security of the building

  • Managing and restricting access

  • Set security procedures and protocols that are always tested

Each one of these components is complex in itself and made of different elements that define the components’ combined effectiveness and functioning relationship. After all, a building can strive for maximum security with a remote location, surveillance systems, multiple authentication methods and security guards, but without proper security policies, there’s no guarantee that the data center is protected from internal and external threats.

What’s the use of security measures if, for example, security guards aren’t informed about guidelines and protocols? All levels of data center security need to work together, to mutually enhance each other’s effectiveness. Also, security practices need to be regularly tested and updated, to provide optimum security in the ever-changing threat landscape.

One way to determine the security of a data center is by basing it on their “tier.” Tier 3 and higher usually hold more complex security protocols and measures; and one of the more important factors with higher-tier data centers is a redundant infrastructure that provides minimal downtime.

Keep in mind, merely looking at the tier won’t give us a true sense of a data center’s security. We also need to explore the practices that indicate levels of data center protection.

Top 5 best practices for data center security

Now that we know the basics of data center security, let’s look at the 5 best practices for ensuring maximum physical and virtual security. It’s entirely impossible to list all the practices and measures there are, so we’ll focus on the most crucial and critical.

  1. Proper data center physical security

When it comes to physical security, there are many factors to consider. A main concern is the building or facility design itself. A building can have one sole purpose and be dedicated to housing a data center, or have other functions and offices independent of the data center. Here, we can easily deduce that the former is better for keeping your data safe.

Also, a facility’s location is generally remote, with few windows, and bulletproof walls Guarding it from external threat, environmental or otherwise.

Other key points of physical security include 24/7 video surveillance, on-site security guards and metal detectors, as well as layered security measures, customized to reflect the sensitivity of the protected data, security checkpoints, limited or single entry and exit points, and more.

  1. Monitoring and restricting access

Human error remains the main threat to any kind of security, and that goes for data centers, too. Secured areas, especially those that hold servers and key assets, should never grant access to unauthorized personnel. To ensure this, a data centers need multiple access controls on all layers, both physical and digital.

Access cards and identification badges are the first measures that come to mind; even office buildings that don’t house data centers use them. Other safeguards include continuous background checks of authorized personnel, scales that weight visitors upon entering and exiting the premises, and biometric locks.

Biometric technology is an effective layer of security, based as it is on an individual’s unique characteristics, such as a fingerprint or retina scan. More and more organizations are using biometrically-controlled locks in addition to traditional access cards.

And depending on the sensitivity of data and equipment involved, specialized security measures should be enforced for each room and area. Every individually-secured area should require more than one form of authentication and access control, as not all employees should have access to every part of a data center.

  1. Efficient network security

Now that we’ve explored the physical security practices crucial for data center security, we arrive at the virtual ones. There are numerous technologies and tools to choose from, so we’re going to focus on the most important.

For perimeter security, firewalls and intrusion detection systems (IDSs) are available to help monitor and inspect traffic before it reaches your internal network.

Frequently, data centers also use access control lists (ACLs) to harden their defenses. Most modern firewalls come already equipped with ACLs, which allow or deny traffic to specific areas by inspecting packet header information. A data center firewall is configured by creating ACLs that you apply to specific interfaces. You’ll want to implement ACLs in edge routers and server clusters.

Now let’s talk about the good ol’ firewall. Blocking unauthorized access is the main goal of any firewall and it acts as the first line of defense for the network, separating its secured and unsecured areas. Just make sure that the firewall you’re using doesn’t act as a mere security theater measure.

Also, control of access should consider monitoring IP addresses, and different threat protection services should be in place. And what about the numerous uncontextualized alerts those threat protection tools produce? There should always be a way to monitor traffic and differentiate between possible threats and background noise.

For more information, check out what Andrew Morris, founder of GreyNoise Intelligence, says about silencing the noise and focusing only on alerts that matter.

Intrusion detection systems are another important part of network security in data centers. They can detect any unusual activity of users or indicators of phishing, DDoS attacks and other common or advanced network threats.

Two- and three-factor authentication is a significant network security measure as well. Annually, or even twice a year, a data center should have penetration testing done by a red team, and it’s best to find a verified third party to perform pen testing.

Zero trust model implementation is crucial for data center security and should be applied to individuals with access to the premises and all internal traffic, so even the slightest chance of threat can be easily detected, inspected and in the end mitigated.

  1. Data protection

Data center security and data security are inseparable. To protect and store data effectively, all data must be heavily encrypted during transfer and otherwise, monitored at all times and regularly backed up. Furthermore, all security procedures involving data must follow up-to-date trends, methods and technologies. Strong password policies and a healthy sense of cybersecurity culture in all personnel coming in contact with data need to be engaged.

  1. Redundant infrastructure

While touching upon data center tiers, we mentioned the redundant infrastructure higher tiers employ. As data centers hold the critical infrastructure needed for an organization’s operations, downtime is a critical factor in data center security. Any incident needs to occur with minimal downtime.

Keeping equipment cool at all times is important, as the quantity of technology in data centers generates a lot of heat. High temperatures can harm equipment and every data center needs the proper controls to manage its climate.

Outages can occur for various reasons, from actual weather to human error. They can also result from short power surges or power losses. Whatever the case, a UPS should be in place to keep servers and other equipment running in the event of any outage.

Conclusion

Choosing the right data center can seem daunting with so many factors to consider, but the bottom line is that your data matters—and you should ensure that you’re putting it in the safest hands possible. Following these best practices will help you get the most relevant information about the way a data center operates, to best inform your decisions about securing your infrastructure.


Keeping track of all of your assets and shadow infrastructure is crucial for knowing which levels of security you need to protect your valuable data. Using our Attack Surface Reduction product will provide you with real-time attack surface monitoring so you can detect and mitigate any potential threats. And at SecurityTrails, we’re here to help you. To find out more about our Attack Surface Reduction tool, schedule a call with our team today!