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Network Traffic Monitoring: 3 Steps & 7 Best Practices in '24

The exponential growth of network traffic, fueled by the rapid expansion of digital infrastructure and the surge in remote work, presents both opportunities and challenges to modern businesses. For instance, mobile network data traffic grew 33% from 2022 to 2023.1 As a solution, the global network monitoring market is witnessing a significant growth as well, where the market is projected to grow from $3.34 billion in 2023 to $6.97 billion by 2030.2

In this article, we delve into the essential aspects of network traffic monitoring and the best practices to ensure your network operates at its peak.

What is network traffic monitoring?

Network traffic monitoring is the systematic observation and analysis of data traffic that flows across a network. It involves using specialized network traffic analysis and network monitoring tools to gain insights into various aspects of the network’s operation, such as: 

  • The performance of network devices
  • The efficiency of data traffic management
  • The overall health of the network infrastructure

By continuously scrutinizing both incoming and outgoing traffic, network administrators can ensure that the network functions optimally, maintaining the balance between network bandwidth usage and data flow requirements.

Why is it important to monitor network traffic?

Monitoring network traffic is crucial for several reasons, all of which contribute to the stability, efficiency, and security of business operations: 

1- Network performance optimization

Monitoring network traffic allows for the optimization of network performance by identifying and addressing bottlenecks, ensuring that network devices operate within their capacity and that network bandwidth is allocated effectively. 

2- Detection of cyber threats and malware

Through traffic monitoring, it’s possible to detect abnormal behavior signaling potential security risks or malware. The FBI has reported a significant 82% rise in ransomware incidents between 2019 and 2021. A notable incident involved the Oregon Anesthesiology Group, which adopted continuous monitoring as a countermeasure against subsequent attacks.

How to monitor network traffic?

1- Select the optimal data source

Embarking on network traffic analysis begins with gaining visibility into the network traffic data flow. Three primary data sources are pivotal for this:

  • Flow Data: Ideal for monitoring bandwidth and network traffic patterns, providing a high-level overview of network health.
  • Packet Data: Offers in-depth insights by analyzing individual network packets, crucial for detecting security threats or malicious activity.
  • WiFi Data: Focuses on analyzing traffic over wireless networks, utilizing advanced WiFi protocols for detailed traffic analysis.

2- Identify key network applications

With a chosen data source, the next step involves mapping out the network’s landscape to understand how it’s being accessed. Utilizing a network topology mapper can reveal the intricate details of network usage, tracing it back to specific devices, applications, and users. This tool offers a graphical representation of the network’s flow, highlighting areas of concern or heavy usage.

Step 3: Implement network monitoring solutions

The final step encompasses deploying a suite of network traffic monitoring tools. Given the vast array of available tools, it’s essential to assess which ones align best with your network’s scale, complexity, and the specific challenges you face.

We have vendor benchmarks on the best network performance monitoring tools and network traffic analysis tools

These network monitoring programs should not only fit within your budget but also integrate seamlessly with your existing technology stack by: 

  • Ensuring a holistic approach to monitoring network traffic
  • Enhancing network performance
  • Bolstering security measures

What are the best practices for network traffic monitoring?

1- Monitor comprehensively

It’s essential to monitor every aspect of your network, rather than just focusing on what you believe to be high-priority areas. Overlooking certain components can lead to vulnerabilities and unexpected issues. A network traffic monitoring tool should be expansive, covering all channels and devices to prevent blind spots.

2- Understand data sources

Grasping the difference between Flow and Packet Data is crucial for effective monitoring. Flow Data is instrumental in identifying unauthorized WAN traffic, while Packet Data can alert administrators to potential malware or security threats. A thorough understanding of these data types enhances the capability of your network traffic monitor.

3- Inspect data packets diligently

Given that data packets can be carriers for malware, employing a network monitoring tool with intrusion detection capabilities is vital. 

Proper firewall configuration is also key to intercepting and inspecting suspicious packets, safeguarding your network from potential threats.

4- Group elements strategically

Organize network elements like IP addresses and devices into logical groups (e.g., by department or location) to streamline troubleshooting and enhance visibility into network behavior. This makes it easier to analyze network traffic and pinpoint issues.

5- Check configurations regularly

Ensure the configurations of crucial network devices like routers and firewalls are routinely reviewed and updated to block unauthorized access and secure the network infrastructure against harmful interactions.

6- Implement alert systems

Implementing real-time alerts for unusual activity or deviations from normal traffic patterns is critical for immediate detection of potential security breaches. This ensures continuous monitoring.

7- Focus on targeted traffic analysis

Focusing on specific types of traffic relevant to current network challenges, such as video conferencing data during performance issues, allows for more targeted and effective problem-solving, rather than getting lost in the vast sea of network data.

For more on network monitoring

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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst

Cem has been the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per similarWeb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.

Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised businesses on their enterprise software, automation, cloud, AI / ML and other technology related decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.

He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.

Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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