How to make a networked system secure

Network security is one of the most important part of business operations. All businesses need to know how to make a networked system secure and keep it secure.

Everything from communication, billing, inventory, sales, customer & staff data along with trade information is typically stored and available on a network and if the network is breached by a malicious third party who intends to steal or corrupt data, it can lead to huge PR, legal & financial implications for a business.

Questions a business needs to ask itself when securing a network are:

  • what are the costs & benefits of investment in network security?
  • what problems could a security breach cause?
  • what are potential points of entry to the network from both outside and inside the business?
  • what security technology and systems are we using at present? e.g. firewalls, security cameras, locked rooms etc… is our technology up to date?
  • what security policies do we have in place at the minute? can we improve them?
  • what training do staff have in relation to security? how can we improve that?

Potential threats to a network

Hackers – These are people who spend time trying to break into networks for financial gain or simply because they can. They can simply silently access a system or may inject viruses, malware etc.. into a system.

Viruses – There a lot of different types of viruses that affect computer systems in many different ways such as slowing down computer or copying information that may be confidential or valuable.

Trojan Horses – These type of attacks can be used to download more viruses and can be used by hackers to hijack systems to steal large amount of data.

Worms – Worms can eat large amounts of data which can ruin a system, they can also multiply quickly which can cause serious network problems and disconnects.

Spyware – As the name suggests ‘spy’ ware is way of looking at what a user is doing on a computer and recording information such as usernames and passwords.

Adware – adware usually affects a system by opening multiple ads at the same time which can cause your system to freeze or become unresponsive. Some hackers use adware to sell antivirus products where a user has no choice but to pay for the advertised product in order to remove the ad.

Physcial interference – A burglar can break into a business and take equipment which leads to data loss and that data can be sold on which can be a threat to a business.

To defend against most of these issues a business can follow the steps outlined below….

Create a network inventory

Businesses should create an inventory to see what security hardware, software & practices they already have within the business / network and identify what they don’t have.

  • Firewall – Firewalls are used to keep unauthorized users out of the network.
  • VPN (virtual private network) – A VPN is used to grant employees, partners and / or customers access to your network that is secure.
  • Intrusion Detection – Any threat to the system should be detected and prevented before it can harm the system
  • Security of content – To protect attacks such as viruses, spyware, spam etc..
  • Wi-Fi – If the business is using a wireless network it should be secure and safe for both visitors and employees
  • User Accounts – Controlling who has access to the network and what they can access on the network
  • Standards & Compliance – Ensure any and all devices meet the requirements of security when accessing the network.

Intellectual property and customer data i.e. personal info and credit card data would be considered important digital assets. It’s important to make a list of sensitive and valuable information held on the network and ask the following questions:

  • What are the most important digital assets in the business?
  • What is their worth?
  • Who can access the assets?
  • Do partners and customers have access to the assets?
  • How is access to the assets controlled?

Develop a security plan

All businesses should have a security plan in place or create a security plan based on present and future needs of the business. When putting in place a security policy it should cover subjects such as:

  • Acceptable usage – This should specify the types of activities that are allowed and prohibited on a network.
  • Email & Communication – This should cover any problems that may arise from e-mail and attachments
  • Antivirus – This policy should help defend against attacks or threats from viruses, worms, Trojans etc..
  • Identity & authentication – To ensuring no unauthorised usage of the system
  • Password Polices – When creating passwords, a minimum & maximum character count should be specified along with the type of characters that can be used.
  • Encryption – To show users how to use encryption software to protect data
  • Remote Access – To ensure security when user access the network remotely

Plan for the future

When creating a security system for your network you have to anticipate future problems and shifts in technology, cyber crime & business operations. Regular maintenance and upgrading of both hardware & software should be budgeted for along with additional training for staff. Questions that can help plan for the future include:

  • How much is the business going to grow over the next few years?
  • When was the last time the business upgraded its network hardware & software? Are they due an upgrade soon?
  • What training in security has been given to employees? Is that training still relevant today?
  • Does the business expect to do more business online over the next few years?
  • Will there be a need for more remote employees in future or greater access to digital assets?