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7 Basic Network Security Mistakes You're Probably Making

  • The continual evolution and growth of computer systems and the Internet mean that robust network security management is now a primary concern for network administrators. It's now common for sensitive, business-critical data to reside on multiple systems and to be transmitted over the Internet. Any network security oversights or mistakes may expose a company's assets and risk a company's reputation and competitive advantage in the market.

    Network security threats -- including viruses, worms, spyware, adware, zero-day attacks, hacker attacks, denial of service attacks, and many more -- are scattered all over the Internet. No single security solution is enough to protect an organization's network infrastructure against all threats, so organizations are implementing multi-layered security tactics to enable total security for their networks.

    The good news is that, with robust network security in place, your organization can experience business benefits beyond security. A robust, secure network helps improve business productivity and saves time and money by reducing the need to battle security loopholes. Overall, network security also shields a business's reputation, which is a key asset for any organization.

    An optimally secured network typically comprises many components, including passwords, encryptions, backups, identities, up-to-date threat information, and more. All of these components must work together and comply with industry standards and regulations.

    With dynamically changing trends and technologies, it's easy to miss one or more of these important components, leaving loopholes that compromise the security of the network. On the following pages, we've listed seven common network security mistakes that users and IT pros are making somewhere in every enterprise. Root these out, and you'll have a strong foundation for network security.

    (Image: BlackJack3D/iStockphoto)

  • Weak authentication

    People often use a blank, default, easy-to-remember or weak password, such as their name, spouse's name, birthday, or even the word "password." This bad practice provides hackers with a fragile door through which they can easily enter into your network and systems.

    For better network security, organizations must enforce a strict policy of requiring a strong password for each entry point to their systems. Users must use long, complex passwords with a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters for the highest possible password security.

    Passwords are considered the easiest form of security, and they can be highly effective when used properly to protect the privacy of data stored on various workstations, appliances, and servers across the network. For critical business information and sensitive data, stronger password-protection mechanisms like periodic expiration of the password and multi-factor authentication can be implemented.

  • Ignorance of encryption

    Many organizations do not consider encryption a viable option for data security, perhaps thinking it's a hindrance to productivity or too difficult to implement and maintain. However, without an encryption plan in place, organizations are leaving themselves quite vulnerable in the event of an attack. Realistically, storing and transferring data without encryption is the equivalent of making that data publicly available to everyone. The cyber world has become more vulnerable, and recklessness in data privacy provides a natural opportunity for security threats to take hold.

    To prevent data leakage and keep data safe, organizations should use a strong encryption mechanism for data stored in a data center or transmitted over the Internet.

  • Insufficient knowledge and awareness of security standards

    In most organizations, general users do not realize the full importance of security requirements or the significance of security standards. Nor are they aware of the latest security loopholes and phishing attacks. Additionally, sometimes an organization's security requirements are not clearly defined, or there is a communication gap between teams. Hackers can take advantage of this lack of knowledge and may try to tamper with an organization's network security using a variety of tactics.

    To secure the work environment, organizations must educate all employees and network users with ongoing security awareness programs and training. Hackers need only one entry point to create havoc. Users must be aware of various types of threats and their impacts on security to ensure the integrity of the network for everyone in the organization.

  • Delayed updates and security patches

    Organizations often defer updates of software and operating systems, delaying what they might consider a time- and resource-consuming task. However, bad actors are introducing new malware and viruses on a daily basis. Timely updates keep malware and virus scanners ready to defend against the latest threats, and using old versions prevents them from detecting new attack vectors. To continually protect systems against new threats, all systems and software should be immediately updated as soon as security patches are available.

    To keep security patches for systems and software up-to-date without a labor-intensive process, organizations should be proactive in patch management and automate the process where possible. For example, organizations might turn on "auto updates" for operating system security patches and other critical software applications. Similar tools are available to automate the process for other systems.

  • Ineffective backup strategies

    Many organizations do not keep adequate backups of their critical data and applications. Data loss can happen through computer crashes, lost or stolen devices, virus infection, physical device damage, natural disaster, and so much more. When something unexpectedly goes wrong with a system or appliance, the foremost concern is getting the data back, but if there's no recent backup in a retrievable format, that may be impossible.

    To avoid data loss, organizations must have a proper backup strategy and data protection plan. For business-critical data and applications, keep the backup offsite and maintain a disaster recovery plan. In case of individual or organizational catastrophe, these investments can keep a business up and running with minimal downtime.

  • Overreliance on a few traditional practices

    Many organizations rely heavily on firewalls, antivirus software, and other tried-and-true tools for securing information and systems on the network. Until recently, these tools may have delivered enough security to mitigate cyber threats and attacks. However, they offer a limited layer of security to the network. Among other failings, they don't offer granular visibility and control over network traffic, which is critical for monitoring the ever-evolving attack surface and threat landscape of a modern network. This is a potentially fatal loophole in modern network security.

    To ensure comprehensive network security, organizations must make investments including regular hardware upgrades and multi-layered protection for their network. With so many variables to manage, organizations may benefit from consulting with a cyber-security expert to develop a comprehensive network security strategy that encompasses both traditional and modern cyber threats.

  • IT admins vs. security specialists

    Unfortunately, some organizations' network security issues are a result of network managers who lack the skills or resources required to secure a modern infrastructure. In addition to the traditional work of setting up a network and downloading and installing software, IT administrators must perform an array of critical additional services, including applying appropriate security policies and using modern tools for proactively monitoring network traffic.

    To ensure network security, organizations must have dedicated professionals with skills and direct experience managing security. Activities such as regular training sessions and consulting with other security services providers should also be part of the security checklist.