Network security: What is it and why is it important? - Neos Networks

Network security: What is it and why is it important?

Product Director, Mark Charlesworth, Neos Networks

Network Security

Network security should form the cornerstone of any solid IT strategy. Failure to invest in - maintain and update – a best-in-class infrastructure could give rise to costly and avoidable breaches. Fortunately, there are steps organisations can implement to prevent such attacks.

What is network security?

Network security encompasses drivers, devices, software, and technologies. Its core aim is to control how and when data is accessed – and, just as crucially, by whom. As such, it helps protect organisations from financial harm, operational disruption, and reputational sabotage.

Architecture must adapt to prevent hackers from exploiting weaknesses in applications, devices, and programs. Furthermore, IT teams must implement new technology and processes to prevent mistakes from being made by end-users. By regularly updating passwords - and putting in place robust administrative controls – the risk of a breach can be greatly minimised.

How does computer network security work?

Organisations must control who can access their network and to what degree. Failure to create robust policies and processes could lead to systemic intrusions by attackers. Either that, or disgruntled former employees who attempt to modify, disrupt, or destroy network resources.

Examples of preventative security measures might include:

  1. Encrypting devices Data isn’t just at risk while in motion. It can also be stolen while on a device. By encrypting files, an organisation can prevent attackers from locating and stealing sensitive information.
  2. Network protocols Also known as cryptographic protocols, these processes encrypt, authenticate, and transport data securely to prevent unauthorised users from accessing or stealing it.
  3. Review security policies Organisations must stay abreast of network security trends by continually reviewing their security policies. This will enable them to adapt IT infrastructure to anticipate and neutralise new threats.

Computer network security comprises two levels: authentication and authorisation. Authentication checks if a user belongs to the network. Presuming they do, the network limits access based on their job role. For example, an IT manager would need to use an entire network. An administrative assistant would only require access to some of it.

Different types of computer and network security

In this ever-changing landscape characterised by newly emerging technologies, cyber security is of paramount importance. With thousands of attacks occurring daily, organisations must invest in well-designed network solutions to keep data secure – while still providing seamless and reliable access for employees.

This can be done on three levels:

1. Physical network security

Intruders don’t always attack from afar. Sometimes violations occur on-site with attackers sabotaging routers, servers, and other vital equipment. Investing in pin-controlled keypads, biometric authentication devices, and better-quality locking systems will help prevent this from happening.

2. Technical network security

Data is often conceived of statically: information stored on a system that’s accessed when needed. But information flows two ways, meaning technical network security controls must also protect against external attacks hidden in attachments or those activated by malicious links.

3. Administrative network security

Threats can originate internally too. That’s why administrative controls are important. Organisations can limit access levels, decide how users are authenticated, and influence the level of control IT has over secure network infrastructure.

How can you benefit from cyber network security?

Building a secure network infrastructure is essential for any organisation that values its reputation, employees, and clients. Without continual investment, it’s all too easy to fall prey to cybercrime – an activity that cost the global economy over $1 trillion in 2020 alone.

Improving cyber network security:

  1. Saves money. In 2020 four out of ten (39%) of UK businesses reported experiencing a cyber breach.
  2. Protects reputations. An intrusion can undermine customers’ and investors’ faith in an organisation.
  3. Improves compliance. This factor is especially important in regulated sectors where trust is important – for example, financial services or healthcare.

Overall, by improving network infrastructure, organisations become proactive – as opposed to passively waiting for problems to occur. For example, in 2015 when TalkTalk was fined £400k due to a series of security failings that allowed attackers to access customer data. Investing in a reliable network security partner prevents breaches like this from occurring.

Organisations that proactively maintain devices run safer networks. Failure to update to the latest security patch, regularly change passwords, or invest in virus software creates vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cyber attackers. Here are some tips to help you secure your organisation:

Change your router’s IP address

Even complex usernames and passwords can be hacked. If an organisation changes part of its IP address intruders will need to guess the new sequence and username and password. Changes can normally be made via router settings under the ‘Network Configuration’ sub-heading (note: headings will vary depending on the manufacturer).

Disable remote access to prevent intrusions

Turning off remote access prevents most cyber-attacks. This change can be made by visiting the ‘remote management’ section in the router’s interface. The remote access feature is often turned off by default. If not, the change can be made by an authorised user.

Set up a separate network for IoT devices

The Internet of Things (IoT) – connected devices that aren’t smartphones, computers, or servers – presents multiple cybersecurity issues. For example, an employee’s smartwatch that’s connected to the corporate network could be the entry point for attack - because IoT devices aren’t as secure. Setting up a virtual local area network (VLAN) would mitigate this issue by creating two networks: one for IoT devices and another for everything else.

Invest in a firewall to protect devices

A firewall is a virtual barrier that defends an organisation’s network from intrusions while allowing safe outbound access to websites, apps, and other devices. High-quality routers usually include firewalls as standard, but the software can also be downloaded and installed manually to create a more secure network.

Use a VPN for additional security

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts data – preventing cyber attackers from watching an organisation’s online activity or isolating its location. That’s because a VPN works via the router – rendering encryption data useless. It also masks the IP address, sending saboteurs a fake location. VPNs can be installed on most devices, including laptops, phones, desktops, and tablets.

Create a strong router password

Router passwords are manufacturer specific. Each one uses a unique pattern defined by the manufacturer which hackers can easily predict. To prevent this, organisations should change their default password to something unique that intruders couldn’t second-guess.

Update router firmware often

A secure network can only be achieved if software is frequently updated. Firmware is no exception and becomes vulnerable over time as hackers find new ways to bypass security features. In most cases, firmware can be updated via a web browser. Some versions update automatically.

Strengthen wi-fi encryption

Modern wi-fi routers have in-built encryption that’s switched off as default, but which can also be activated at set-up. There are various types, but WPA 2 and WPA 3 are the newest and most secure. Setting up a guest network is also advisable. That way organisational data isn’t exposed to malware hidden on visitors’ devices.

In addition to these steps, organisations should regularly run penetration tests and vulnerability scans. This will isolate access points that attackers could otherwise exploit – thereby anticipating and preventing future breaches.

Take the next step

Has this guide raised questions about your organisation’s ability to deflect cyber-attacks? If so, talk to a knowledgeable member of the Neos Networks team to discuss your next steps.

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