How can air-gapped networks offer airtight security?

Sara Ana Cemazar
March 14, 2023
min read

With the advancement in technology and rapid digitization, the potential risk for cyber crimes has also increased to a great extent. These risks often incur a data loss, negatively impact assets, and in some extreme cases, lead to plant shutdowns.

In order to mitigate such risks, many businesses are now shifting towards adapting the air-gapped network strategy. This security measure ensures that systems and their stored data are protected from unauthorized access.

This article explores what an air-gapped network is, its types, and its importance for different industries.

What is an air-gapped network?

The term ‘air-gapped’ comes from the idea that a network should have a physical air gap between it and other networks. It is a way of securing your highly confidential data from the eyes of the people who could harm your organization. 


an air-gapped network is a completely isolated system or network of systems from the internet or any other external network. 

Since the network is wholly isolated electromagnetically, electronically, and physically, it is also called security by isolation. It is extremely difficult for hackers to access sensitive data, as they would have to physically be in the same room by breaching all physical barriers.

How does an air-gapped network operate? 

In an air-gapped network, data is typically transferred via physical media, such as a USB or CD. These are carefully scanned and verified before connecting to the network. 

It is to note that this process is largely manual. Therefore, they are overall slow and cumbersome. But it is necessary for ensuring comprehensive network integrity.

Backup and recovery, as well as confidential computing, are two major components of air-gapped networks. 

For example, a copy of the data stored on a network is air-gapped and stored in a completely different physical location. Even if the network is attacked and data is compromised, it can be quickly restored with the air-gapped copy.

On the other hand, confidential computing allows data to be processed in an encrypted form, ensuring the privacy and security of sensitive information.

What are the common types of air gaps?

Various types of air-gapped networks are designed for organizations with different requirements. 

Some of the most common air-gapped networks are listed below:

1. Total physical air-gap network

This is the simplest air-gapped network in which the computer or device is physically isolated from all external connections. This is achieved by physically disconnecting the device from the internet or removing external network cards, modems, or other network hardware.

Anyone who wants to access the data stored in this device or store more data must go through the physical security barriers to reach the device and perform the task.

2. Logical air-gap network

This type of air-gap network is a bit more complicated. They involve using software and security protocols to create a virtual barrier between a device and an external network through encryption & hashing, and other similar processes.

This type of air-gapped network is commonly used when devices need to be connected to multiple networks but must maintain high levels of security. With the security measures in place, even if someone can access the data, they cannot understand, steal or tamper with it.

3. Isolated/segregated air-gap network

An air-gap network can also be created by isolating devices within the same environment. This means the network is physically separate from other networks but within the same physical space.

For example, having two servers on the same rack but air-gapped away from each other as one is not plugged into the network.

Air-gapped networks: Is it a security staple?

Air-gapped networks provide advanced security in highly sensitive environments such as nuclear power plants and military installations. It is instrumental in preventing remote security breaches.

air gapped network

Additionally, air-gapped networks often have more security measures, such as strict access control and surveillance, which increases the difficulty level for breaching them.

However, these networks are not entirely immune to security breaches even after multiple precautions. For example, there are possibilities that the USB device used for transferring data may be infected with a virus. 

A few instances where an air-gapped network was attacked 

1. Stuxnet

In 2010, Stuxnet, a computer worm, was discovered. It was infecting Iranian nuclear facilities, causing their centrifuges to malfunction and disrupting their nuclear program for a few years.

2. Flame

In 2012, a malware program named Flame was designed to infect air-gapped networks by exploiting Windows systems and USB drive vulnerabilities.

3. Phineas fisher

In 2015, a group of hackers ‘Phineas fisher’ breached the air-gapped network of the ‘Hacking team,’ an Italian cybersecurity company known for providing hacking tools to government and law enforcement agencies.

As far as you can tell, breaching an air-gapped network is an extremely rare occurrence. Therefore, air-gapped networks are still reliable for enforcing strict security safeguards.

Which businesses need an air-gapped network, and why?

Organizations in highly regulated industries need air-gapped networks for data security, privacy reasons, and regulatory compliance. Also, using a secure communication messaging app for coordinating with peers and external collaborators aids data security.

air gapped network

Here are some organizations that can significantly benefit from using an air-gapped network:

1. Government agencies

Government entities deal with classified information that must be protected from cyberattacks. Investing in an air-gapped network is more of a necessity here than a choice.

Here's some more on government and cybersecurity:

2. Financial institutions

Institutions such as banks, investment firms, etc., hold a lot of financial information and customer data, which is sensitive and has to be protected. These organizations also handle large volumes of monetary transactions or trade-in high-value assets.

Learn more on secure collaboration in FinServ:

3. Defense contractors

They must maintain an air-gapped network to prevent data breaches, as these organizations hold data related to military and intelligence operations.

See how Rocket.Chat serves organizations in Defense here.

4. Medical institutions

Medical institutions and pharmaceutical companies handle patient information and proprietary research, which require protection.

Learn more here:

5. Nuclear power plants

These plant facilities require strict security measures, like an air-gapped network, to prevent unauthorized access and potential cyberattacks.

Air gapped network: key to safeguarding critical data

Although air-gapped networks are not foolproof, they are still quite effective in safeguarding critical data and reducing the risks of cyberattacks. 

Also, organizational security is essential for all many organizations across sectors that deal with high-value confidential information which must be protected. 

Why should you deploy Rocket.Chat in an air-gapped environment?

Rocket.Chat is a highly secure, open-sourced communication platform that can be deployed on-premise and functions well in an air-gapped environment, making it a great solution for highly regulated industries. 

The platform will provide you with enhanced security and control of your data, meet compliance requirements, and ensure uninterrupted critical communication in case of a network outage and other emergencies.

This way, you can collaborate with your peers and partners without worrying about data breaches. Rocket.Chat is fully equipped to secure your confidential business data.

Sign up for a free trial with Rocket.Chat today!

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Sara is an SEO Strategist at Rocket.Chat. She is passionate about topics around digital transformation, workplace experience, open source, and data privacy and security.
Sara Ana Cemazar
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