As a small business owner, you know how important it is to have strong computer network security that’s ready to handle any cyber-attack. If you’ve lost sensitive data or been compromised in the past, you’ve seen first-hand what these hackers can do and know why it’s so important that you find the holes in your security system now rather than patch them up later after you’ve been attacked. Hackers are always looking for vulnerabilities in a network, which it’s vital that you discover any weak areas in your own security now so you can fix them before they’re exploited. Here are a few tips on how to do so.
Have you done a penetration test on your business? This test involves having your IT team hack into your own system in an attempt to discover if your network is vulnerable. However, that’s usually only the first step. Because your team already knows so much about your network, they may not think to approach it in ways a hacker might. This is why you also need to hire an independent party to try to break into your system. This way, you’ll also get an outside perspective on your security.
But you also need to consider offline ways that someone could hack your network. Do any of your employees have their passwords written down in plain sight? If someone looks in an employee’s office or meeting room, will they see sensitive data written on a whiteboard? These offline hacks can be just as devastating, and few people see them coming. It’s just as important to create responses to them as it is to improve your cyber-defenses.
Improve Your Network Security
Once you know how your system is vulnerable, it’s time to address those weaknesses. There are a number of different ways you can add protection to your applications, infrastructure, operating system, and hardware, plus you can address offline hacking by working with your employees. The following four areas should be addressed so that you can raise the protection level of your network in a number of different ways.
1. Know Your System and What Needs Defending
Do you know every device that’s connected to your network? Better still, does your IT department? If you don’t know what and where all of your servers, switches, firewalls, and other devices are, it can be difficult to know what you need to protect from hackers. If you have even one computer or laptop on your system that has very weak security, you have a major issue.
There are a number of tools out there you can use to scan your network and your ports to learn where the largest security violations are. These tools can tell you which computers are running operating systems that aren’t patched, which need an antivirus program installed, and where your firewall may not be locked down. Fixing all of these obvious issues is a good way to discourage hackers since many will back down once they see your network is fairly secure.
2. Train Your Employees
Employees are often the weak link in a secured network because human error is unpredictable and can’t always be prevented. While employees may know how to spot a phishing email, even the most vigilant person can slip up and accidentally click a link from time to time, especially as these scams become more and more difficult to spot. However, there’s a difference between making a mistake and being unaware of how security works.
That’s why it’s vital that you train all of your employees on basic network security principles. They should know to avoid writing down their passwords, never give out sensitive information over the phone in an area where a non-employee may overhear it, and to recognize a fake website when they see one. They should also know how to create strong passwords, plus your IT department should have the network setup to require users to change passwords on a regular basis.
You should have a training system in place for new employees, have refresher trainings for others, and even have random tests to make sure your employees are retaining this information.
3. Use Appropriate Defenses
Is your network protected against the right attacks? Many systems do not make use of the appropriate strategies for the threats they face. For example, if you store a good amount of sensitive consumer data, do you have strong encryption and other securities in place? That data should be at the center of your defensive strategies. On the other hand, if you seem to get a lot of spam emails every day, have you taken steps to deal with that?
Dealing with the correct threats is important because generalized defenses are usually weaker. For example, to defend against ransomware, have backups in place if your system is locked out. Make use of a network intrusion prevention system like Snort to monitor your system and alert you for any unauthorized access. It’s much easier to plan against specific threats than it is to simply set out to make your network more secure. Narrowing things down allows you to focus on creating the appropriate countermeasures that are stronger and more effective.
4. Prioritize Boosting Weak Areas
The penetration test will have given you a list of weak areas you need to work on, and it’s important that you use this list to determine the order in which you work on your overall security. Don’t focus on spam filtering if phishing emails don’t seem to be a problem, for example. If your system has an issue with malware, focus on that first over things that don’t seem to be as much of a concern.
This is also where you may need to look at your budget. You may not necessarily have the resources you need to address all of the issues that were discovered. However, because having your network hacked and losing sensitive data can do irreparable damage to your company, you may want to find additional funds to reallocate as soon as possible.