Every organization that has computers on the Internet needs to be concerned with network security. Neglecting it will lead, sooner or later, to malware infections or data breaches. Security involves many factors, including hardware, software, and people. Understanding its basics is the first step toward having safer data.
The local net and the Internet
The traditional view of a local network is a set of machines connected to the Internet through a router. Today's situation is more complex. Wireless access points, cloud services, and mobile devices often are parts of a network's perimeter. The boundary is less well marked, and there are more points of entry. Any device which can be reached through the Internet needs to be protected.
A business's network may not all be in one place; it could be a wide-area network (WAN) rather than a local one. The facilities which make up the WAN may be connected over the Internet, using secure protocols. They may use dedicated lines or microwaves to communicate. Simply defining the extent of the network is often a challenging task.
As the Internet has grown, the range of dangers on it has kept pace or exceeded its growth. The term "hacker" has the wrong connotation for the modern cybercriminal. The brute-force methods of the past still have wide use, but the most dangerous attackers use finesse and subtlety. They know how to fool people and how to take advantage of hidden weaknesses in software.
A report by McAfee estimates the global cost of cybercrime at $600 billion. It reports that a major Internet service provider saw 80 billion malicious scans per day. Every network, large or small, is at risk. The largest breaches dominate the headlines, but a comparatively minor ransomware attack or theft of records can be devastating to a smaller business.
Risk assessments quantify and prioritize the dangers. A network may have multiple vulnerabilities, but the focus must be on the ones who are most easily exploited or could have the worst consequences. Some risks might apply only to situations which will never occur in normal business practice. Others may open a path for outsiders to obtain critical information. The most severe risks need to be addressed first.
Human error is one of the most prevalent risk factors. Anyone can occasionally be fooled by a well-crafted message or hastily click on a malicious link. The extent of the risk depends on how much damage the user can inadvertently do.
Setting security policies and procedures
A good set of security policies will minimize risks. Policies need to cover the configuration of the network, the management of machines and software, and the actions users can take.
At the network level, all points of access need protection. Servers which perform critical functions need the highest level of protection, and access to them must be strictly limited. A firewall that restricts incoming traffic is a necessity, and any machine with a direct Internet connection needs close watching. Network monitoring will detect activity by infected machines.
Each device in the network requires its own protection. Anti-malware software will prevent many types of attacks from succeeding. Keeping software up to date will fix known vulnerabilities. Mobile devices are a special concern since they spend a large part of their time connected to networks beyond the organization's control.
A "bring your own device" (BYOD) policy is convenient for employees who are comfortable using their own phones, but it must be carefully managed to minimize the risk. Business data storage should be segregated from personal data, and the devices ought to be individually approved to make sure they have adequate protection. Any unrecognized wireless device should not be allowed on the local network.
The actions that people may take are the least predictable aspect of network management. However, two security policy elements will significantly lower their risk.
The first is training. People may not naturally understand what actions are risky and why. Regular training sessions will help them to develop habits that will keep them clear of most mistakes. Exercises, such as sending them test phishing messages, will reinforce those habits with practice and feedback.
The second way of lowering risk is to limit user privileges. Users should have the power to perform only the actions which they need to do. If they are unable to do something, malware which takes over their accounts will also be unable to do it. Users who occasionally need administrative privileges should use a special account for that purpose and stay logged in no longer than necessary.
Keeping a network secure is no easy task in the modern world. It requires attention on many levels and awareness of the new threats and defenses that regularly appear. Configuring and protecting the machines is important but keeping human error to a minimum is equally critical. Complex as the task is, no business can afford to neglect it.
Total Computer Solutions can provide the network security expertise to protect against cyber-attack and assess the security risks to your business from inside or outside of the organization. We have made it our mission to provide the customized computer solutions which are best suited for your smooth day-to-day digital applications so don't hesitate to contact us.