Network Security: What it is and Why it’s More Important Than Ever
What it is and Why it’s More Important Than Ever
Between 2016 and 2017, the United States saw approximately 1,579 reported data breaches, according to a report published by the Identity Theft Resource Center. That’s a 44 percent uptick from the previous year, which itself was up 40 percent than the prior year.
What’s more, industry insiders project that by 2020, technologies like artificial intelligence, the public cloud and the burgeoning Internet of Things will render many of today’s network security measures ineffective.
These are concerning statistics, ones that make the importance of network security for small businesses all the more pressing. After all, over half of cyberattacks target private businesses.
When risks of an insecure network are so costly — and the trends so apocalyptic — what can you do today to shore up for tomorrow? We’ve got network security tips for businesses of nearly every size to enact.
What Is Network Security?
In its broadest sense, network security is the practices and technology a business puts in place to protect its IT infrastructure. This infrastructure, in turn, is made up of all the data, programs, applications, web networks, software and hardware utilized and managed by your business.
Effective management of your IT systems is important on two fronts. First, it ensures any digital assets that are client or public-facing — like your website, client account portals or a payment page — are reliable, compliant and, more importantly, safe to use. Second, it also guards your own reputation so the data and information utilized in your business operations get appropriately handled.
Common network security measures for small businesses today include practices like:
- Password-protected computer and mobile devices, as well as passwords to access business networks, programs and specific applications.
- Firewalls or similar internal network controls, which you program to monitor only approved incoming and outgoing network traffic.
- Anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-malware software, usually in the form of purchased software suites, that block intrusive or intentionally damaging “viruses” from taking hold of your devices.
- Cloud-based storage, where programs and work can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection simply because that work or application is hosted on the internet.
- Local device storage, where programs and work are hosted on a specific device or sets of hardware. Files and information can then only be accessed and managed from those pieces of equipment.
Most businesses likely have a combination — if not a little bit of each — of these tech elements already in place. Yet introducing them to your network is one thing. It’s entirely another to maintain and update your IT infrastructure with today’s best practices — especially when those best practices seem to constantly shift.
The Importance of Network Security
The answer behind why network security is so critical might depend on who you ask. However, at its core, proper network security means your business can routinely deliver on the goods and services which your customers expect. As public pressure mounts around issues like data privacy and personal data usage, your business’ own digital ethics must evolve with it.
Furthermore, network security is so important simply because we live in a digital-first world. This is a fact that small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies grapple with, no longer seeing technology as an extension of their services but at the core of those services themselves. This digital-first world is only poised to advance, too, as more and more people expect everyday services, transactions and information to be readily available at their fingertips, wherever they are, at any given moment. If a business can’t keep pace with these expectations, consumers will find one that will.
Network Security Statistics:
|Over half of the world’s internet traffic is now done on mobile devices. This introduces new trends — and new problems — for networks to not only handle that mobile traffic smoothly but to protect it as well.|
|Fifty-six percent of that internet traffic is initiated by an automated source like bots, hacking operations, spammers and impersonators.|
|Nearly 73 percent of reported cyberattacks are done for monetary gain, otherwise known as ransomware schemes.|
|Approximately 4,000 ransomware attacks happen every day.|
|Email malware lurks in one out of every 131 emails. How many emails does your business send and receive in just one day?|
|Nearly 46 percent of consumers say they won’t purchase from a business again if they have a poor or suspicious digital experience — or worse, simply hear about poor or suspicious digital experiences.|
The advantages of network security not only deter these threats, but they can also shore up your business operations to negate the following.
Network Security Prevents:
- Interrupted Business: Even small cyberattacks can disrupt business as usual, risking everything from financial information and interrupted inventory to a complete digital shutdown.
- Data Loss: The loss of business face is perhaps the least of your worries during a cyberattack. Consumer privacy and agency have been compromised, as well as your own pertinent business data and sensitive information.
- Fines and Legal Ramifications: Aside from properly reporting the depth and breadth of a cyberattack, your business could face specific government-mandated “mishandling” fines, plus lose compliance or standard certifications.
- Overall Loss of Business: Few consumers will trust a company whose resume comes tarnished with digital mismanagement. This directly affects your bottom line and ability to stay open.
How Do Data Breaches Happen?
Data breaches occur when an outside entity can infiltrate your digital channels and access your sensitive information. This entity then performs a number of crippling activities, from stealing and deleting customer information to demanding ransom money in exchange for no long-term network damage.
Data breaches tend to begin in one of two ways:
- Social Attacks: Hackers or programmed bots can spam your employees, typically via email or as disguised website traffic. They’ll attempt to convince your employees to give away passwords and logins, click a link, open a file or download materials masquerading as something safe and business critical. If done, the hacker can establish a direct entry point into your network, like you’ve handed them the key to your front door.
- Network Attacks: A skilled hacker can research weaknesses in your network defenses, such as weak passwords, outdated operating systems or even ineffective anti-virus software. They can then tunnel through such weak spots to plant viruses or steal information directly. The worst network attacks can pose indefinite data extraction risks that will take a complete system overhaul to patch.
While this is the general data-breach process of a cyberattack, there are other causes of significant data loss. You would do well to familiarize yourself with these risks, as over 70 percent of businesses will experience some kind of accidental or malicious data damage, from heat or liquid harddrive damage to power outages and human error in deleting files.
Types of Network Security Attacks
When nearly 60 percent of small businesses go out of business in the six months after a major data loss, it becomes more important than ever to know network threat trends and strategies.
Luckily, you don’t have to run out and hire a team of IT defense experts to start familiarizing yourself with the major types of network security attacks.
Malware is a malicious version of software hackers plant into your network that can wreak all sorts of chaos. They’re able to do so using either the social or network attacks described above, though typically malware gets planted through human missteps, such as clicking a pop-up link with an installed malware bug or downloading an illicit file.Hackers use malware to perform the following functions, often without your awareness:
- Transferring data out of your system
- Tracking your computer usage, history, screen activity and even keystrokes
- Accessing your device’s camera or microphone
- Taking complete control of your hardware
Phishing schemes come in a variety of forms, though their central goal is the same — to get an actual person to relay sensitive information. That information can be business-critical, such as network passwords, or personal data such as emails, social security numbers, bank accounts and medical history. Phishing operations are often more successful than other types of data hacks because they employ a human “touch” to get what they need. Phishing hackers often send messages and frame information as if it were coming from a trustworthy source. They may even look like emails from people you know or services you use, such as your coworker or your bank, with links that re-direct you to an inconspicuous website. From there, the hacker can implant malware onto your computer or have you input the exact information they seek — all while still pretending to be someone you know.
- Denial of Service (DoS) Attack
As the name suggests, denial-of-service attacks are when hackers bombard a network with so much traffic your website literally cannot function — meaning its services are rendered denied.This kind of network flooding is powerful because it attacks something businesses and consumers tend to take for granted. It can also be launched from numerous attack points, with dozens of computers or computer programs synched up to attack a business network and jam traffic.And while denial-of-service attacks don’t necessarily extract data, they are expensive and debilitating. What’s more, they may signal your small business’ overall IT infrastructure isn’t quite on-par and needs serious attention.
- Session Hijacking
When anyone uses the internet, their browsing and queries are classified using a unique session ID. That session ID is what allows your internet activities to operate, as it relays to nearby servers who you are and what you’re requesting from them. Those servers then deliver that information back to your device, and you go on Googling, shopping, emailing and instant messaging as usual.Session hijacking, in essence, is like a fly on the wall of your unique sessions. The ID linking your device with a nearby server is no longer private, and hackers can pose as your computer or mobile phone, steal query information and then access other data on other servers. It’s a sophisticated form of hacking that can lead to tremendous and abrupt data loss.
- Brute Force Attacks
While other data attacks attempt to trick users or sneak past system defenses, brute-force hacks simply charge at a network. Cyber attackers using a brute-force strategy will typically inundate a network with various password trial-and-error attempts. Many will employ custom software that can attempt hundreds of password combinations a minute, expediting their hack and giving them access to an entire network’s data through a single entry point.
Advantages of Network Security
Apart from preventing the data breaches and hacks outlined above, the advantages of network security work to bolster your entire business.
- Saves Money: In business, it’s always more cost-effective to be proactive than reactive. Risking an insecure network could mean lost business, compliance penalties, legal fees, business fines and much more — a potential nightmare for your profits.
- Saves Time: Many people assume the work to shore up IT system defenses takes longer and is more complex than the work it takes to fix them. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Any data glitch or IT shadow activity will directly reduce your business’ productivity, services and future growth.
- Improves Operations: A network that’s safer and more streamlined is one that’s more productive, more efficient and more manageable.
- Enhances Compliance: These days, most industries have some form of a regulatory body setting cybersecurity rules and guidelines. Improving your network security sharpens your compliance efforts.
- Minimizes Catastrophic Data Events: It bears repeating that a robust network security system using a number of strategies is best practice from day one.
How to Secure & Protect Your Network
There are plenty of actionable measures your small business can enact today to protect and strengthen network security.
- An Upgraded Operating System and System Anti-Virus Software
Most security enhancements fall short if the templates they’re built upon are out-of-date. For small businesses, this most commonly means updating your Windows operating system, though it also encompasses another fundamental computer operating programs as well, like Linux and some built-in firewalls.
Scheduling fixed upgrades assures weak spots are fixed with patches straight from vendors. This is an essential first step for your data’s protection.
- Set Access Controls
Setting password protected or ID-verification access controls means only certain individuals can locate certain sets of data within your network. Access controls are a prime way to bolster anti-virus and firewall software, plus limits the potential pool of people viewing, copying or sending unauthorized data.
- Employ Hybrid Enterprise and Public Cloud Storage
A hybrid cloud system gives you the practicality of public internet-based applications with the safety and certainty of a private cloud. Your data is more diversely stored and therefore harder to breach while still giving you access to most of the digital resources your business is used to having. You can even partner with cloud computing services to ensure a smooth transition with all the applications your businesses needs.
- Have Web Content Filters
Content filters are another set of internal controls you program. They help shield your employees’ hardware from viruses and malware by preventing them from accessing suspicious websites or alerting them to questionable sources.
- Regularly Backup Data
It may seem obvious, but too many businesses still don’t maintain a comprehensive data-backup system. These are your last lines of defense in the event of a breach, allowing you to re-access lost or damaged data.
Additional Tips About Network Security
To further minimize the risks of an insecure network, you can adopt even more IT best practices for your small business:
- End-User Training: Last year, 41 percent of data leaks occurred because of negligent or naive employee data accidents. Stress the importance of data management with your employees in meetings and special seminars. If they understand the why behind your network security practices, they’re much more likely to maintain them.
- Password Updates: Eighty-one percent of data attacks come through hacking weak or stolen passwords. It is the most prevalent data-breach tactic and one you can curtail through strong and frequently changed passwords — ideally in the form of passphrases.
- Network Security Assessments: Penetration tests and other system checks can be enacted, either internally or through a partner service, to find your system’s most pressing security holes.
- Consider Wi-Fi Protection Access (WPA) II or Virtual Private Network (VPN) Connections: WPA II heightens your business’ WiFi security so breaches like session hacking are much harder. Likewise, for remote workers and field teams, consider a VPN connection that lets only authorized users connect with your network.
Take the Stress Out of Security With Network Solutions From Consolidated Technologies, Inc.
Consolidated Technologies, Inc. has helped over 2,000 businesses solve their network security concerns and maximize systems. It’s what we do — and we want to bring these services to you. Start your journey with us today.
Article Originally Published: Sept 12, 2017