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The NetFlow Advantage: Why SPAN Ports Fall Short

Investment in digital infrastructure is skyrocketing as companies work to improve operational efficiency and keep pace with the amount of digital data being generated. For example, in 2024 alone, the world is expected to generate 1.5 times the amount of digital data it did just two years ago.

For the cybersecurity teams responsible for protecting and monitoring networks, this requires modern solutions designed to perform in a hybrid IT environment. However, many weren’t designed with network security in mind, like having to rely on legacy switch SPAN (Switched Port Analyzer) ports for visibility.

Security operators need to see every connection or they could miss a threat, and that complete visibility starts with the systems and users connected to the network. This blog post explores the comparative advantages of NetFlow over SPAN, so that cybersecurity teams can put their organizations on the right path to cyber resilience.

What Is SPAN and Why Is It Risky?

SPAN ports, also known as Port Mirroring, are specialized ports found on switches or routers. They are designed to replicate selected packets moving through the device and forward them to a designated destination port. This process ensures precise monitoring and analysis of network traffic.

Historically, an engineer would connect a SPAN port directly to intrusion detection systems (IDS) or network monitoring tools. But with today’s modern networks, operators look for a more reliable and secure way to connect security and monitoring solutions, gain visibility, and properly analyze threats and anomalies.

SPAN doesn’t actually do any monitoring, but the risks and expenses linked to SPAN become more prominent as organizations reevaluate their digital infrastructures, posing significant challenges to operations teams responsible for improving cyber resilience.

The Advantages of a NetFlow Solution

NetFlow is a feature on most Layer 3 devices, such as routers, firewalls, WiFi Controllers and L3 switches, that captures flows and exports them to an external server for analysis. Unlike SPAN which simply dumps everything it sees on specific ports to the monitoring port, crushing valuable resources, NetFlow provides more structured information at a configurable sampling rate.

Specifically, NetFlow tracks flows—series of packets sharing characteristics like source/destination ports, addresses, protocols, and QoS markings. For instance, IP phone conversations, FTP sessions, and web page views are all considered flows. Any devices using network resources cannot escape being captured by a flow record when designed properly and implemented strategically.

Building Cyber Resilience with NetFlow

As the landscape of cybersecurity threats—ranging from Zero Day attacks and Advanced Persistent Threats to malware and ransomware—continues to evolve, organizations are increasingly recognizing how NetFlow enables operators to reach actionable insights about security incidents swiftly.

Integrating NetFlow with cutting-edge security technologies empowers both Network Operations (NetOps) and Security Operations (SecOps) teams. It not only allows them to monitor network issues effectively but also provides the detailed data necessary to identify the specifics of an incident—who was involved, from where, over what duration, and the actions taken.

By prioritizing complete visibility, organizations can ensure their journey towards digital transformation is secure, resilient and aligned with the highest standards of cybersecurity. For information on how to build a more resilient connected environment or to learn more about the benefits of NetFlow solutions, contact us today at hello@uncommonx.com.

About the Author

Ray Hicks - Founder & CIO - Ray is an award-winning visionary with over 20 years of leadership experience. A proven problem solver, he has delivered innovative solutions for several enterprise and middle-tier businesses.

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