How do I secure my business network
Your business data is crucial to the health and profitability of your business. Your data can include customer contact information, patient/client files, financial information, contracts, business presentations, etc. Any business that’s ever experienced a loss of valuable data knows how devastating it can be. A well-designed and executed backup plan can prevent data loss from a catastrophic event. However, far too many small and mid-sized businesses fail to realize they can lose data another way…through theft. An improperly secured business network opens up the possibility of data being compromised or stolen.
To prevent your business network from being compromised, there are two primary steps that needed to be taken: 1.) identify all business data and where it is stored, and 2.) identify how that data can be accessed. Since each business network will be different, this article will address vulnerabilities for a typical business network.
The primary area of vulnerability for any small to mid-sized business network is its internet connection. Although most recent computer operating systems include a firewall, the best way to secure a small business network is to install a hardware firewall. This can be accomplished by installing a modern router, which will typically have a built-in firewall. This type of firewall stops intrusion attempts at the router rather than attempting to do it at the computer.
Many businesses utilize a wi-fi router so that their business laptops and other mobile devices can access their network and internet connection. However, unlike a wired network that is contained within the walls of a business, a wireless network can extend outside the walls to a parking lot and even to neighboring businesses. If not properly protected, the wireless network offers one of the easiest ways to gain unauthorized entry into a business network. Securing a wireless network is covered in depth in the Tech Tips article “Securing your home wireless network.” The information in that article applies to business networks as well. Primarily, it is vitally important that any wireless network be secured with encryption to prevent access by unauthorized parties.
Even with a hardware firewall installed, software vulnerabilities can still be exploited to gain access to your business network. As described in the residential Tech Tips article “Does my computer have a virus?” it is important that all network software, operating systems and internet browsers be updated regularly to patch known security issues. Usually, the best way to accomplish this task is to enable automatic updates, which will download and install the latest updates when they become available. It is also advisable that all computers within the network have antivirus software installed.
In addition to keeping software updated to prevent viruses, it is equally important that your staff be informed of the danger of viruses and how to prevent infecting your network. Most viruses are easily avoided by teaching employees a few simple guidelines. First, don’t open emails or email attachments from unknown sources. Second, don’t download files from the internet. One of the best ways to defend against employee initiated viruses is to install a proxy or internet content filter. These software programs can be configured to filter or block various types of content from being viewed and/or downloaded from the internet.
Many small and mid-sized business owners either use a laptop, or provide a laptop for certain employees such as sales staff. It is very important to realize that all mobile devices with sensitive company data pose a serious risk for loss of data. Laptops can easily be lost or stolen. Because of this, staff utilizing laptops that will be taken outside the confines of the business should be taught to carefully guard their laptop and never leave them unattended. All laptops should be password protected. Depending on the sensitivity of the data stored on the laptop, it may also be advisable to install a data encryption program to encrypt all folders containing sensitive data. For the utmost security, it is possible to encrypt the entire hard drive, although loss of the password would render the laptop useless. These same types of precautions should also be taken with any other business mobile devices that contain sensitive business data.
Finally, it is important that computers within the business confines be protected from unauthorized access by anyone other than employees. If customers or vendors need to be able to access the internet, then there are a couple of options to do it securely. Some higher-end firewalls have multiple interfaces that can be configured with different sets of rules for access and strict separation between them, one for the business’ computers and one for guest’s computers. The other and more foolproof option would be to bring in a separate internet connection to be used by guests only.
Assessing the security vulnerabilities of your business network can be a daunting but very necessary task. If your business lacks the personnel, expertise or time to conduct an assessment and determine what measures need to be put in place to secure the network, it is advisable to seek out local computer network professionals. These companies are well aware of the security risks in today’s world and can not only provide recommendations for securing your business network, but can also install and implement the appropriate measures. Establishing a relationship with a local consultant can also be valuable when other computer/network related issues arise.
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