The Basics Of Network Security

I was going to write up an article about network security. Right before I was ready to start the writeup I found this article so rather than re-inventing the wheel I decided to go with it.

A network is two or more computers linked together in order to share data. From a security standpoint, the problem with networks is that unauthorized individuals might also be able to access that data. Network security is a term that encompasses your overall system for keeping your network as impenetrable as possible, be it hardware, software, or company policies.

Whether your network consists of two computers or two hundred computers, there are certain basic security measures you should have in place. Most of these measures aren’t complicated or expensive, and they don’t require any particular expertise in networking or computer security.

One of the most basic steps for securing your network is to have anti-virus software in place. Anti-virus software periodically sweeps your computer looking for known viruses. You can also choose to run a anti-virus test at any time. Once run, the software generates a report that lists the viruses detected. You are then able to select which, if any, of the viruses detected you want quarantined and removed. It’s more important that you keep your software up to date because new viruses are created and released every day.

Next, make sure you have a firewall in place. A firewall is like a gatekeeper. It’s a hardware/software combination that allows you to decide what goes in and out of your network. You determine the “trust level” to which your firewall is set. The trust level dictates which network connections will be automatically allowed and which will require specific permission. Firewalls come with a “default” setting which is unlikely to be stringent enough to meet your security needs. For optimum security, you should always manually set the trust settings to a higher degree of scrutiny.

Firewalls and anti-virus software are essential for another very important reason: they help protect your system from adware and spyware. Adware and spyware range from annoying to very dangerous. Adware slows down your system, and generates irritating pop-up ads that interfere with your work. Spyware is much more serious. It tracks your computer usage habits, and basically opens up a door to your network that allows hackers to penetrate your system without your knowing it.

Another simple measure is to regularly download patches for your software. Computer programs are tested for vulnerabilities and possible exploits before they are distributed to the public. However, it’s impossible to detect every single vulnerability in advance. As new exploits are discovered, companies “patch” their programs and software to prevent the exploitation of that vulnerability. Without these patches, the software and programs on your computer remain vulnerable.

Network security also depends on common sense. Weak passwords can cause big problems, but are easily avoided. Never use easy-to-guess passwords like your last name, phone number, or birth date. Always use a combination of letters and numbers. Your best bet is to avoid real words altogether and use a string of numbers and letters that stand for a saying or phrase you can easily remember.

Another common sense security measure is to delete suspicious-looking email. More importantly, never open or download an attachment from an email address you don’t recognize. Doing so could be inviting a virus right into your computer. When in doubt, follow this simple rule: delete without opening.

If your business, you should also put in place security policies to govern the behavior of authorized users. Even authorized users can pose a serious security risk, sometimes without realizing it. For instance, “I love to dance, I love to sing” could be “1L2D1L2S,” with the number 1 replacing the letter I.

Here are a few elements of a solid network security policy:

• Require your employees to change their passwords every 3 months.
• Do not allow employees to post their passwords on their desk or cubicle
• Immediately terminate a departing employee’s access to your network.
• Operate on the computer network equivalent to the “need to know” basis. Only allow an employee access to the programs and data that are essential to his or her job.
• Put all of your security guidelines down in writing, and post them where all of your employees can see them.

You want your network security policy to be tight, but not completely rigid. That is, if a given security measure is proving to be unworkable or a serious inconvenience, be willing to adjust. You can often achieve the same result through different means.

Last, but certainly not least, review your network security on a regular basis. A network that’s secure today may not be secure a few months down the road. Hackers are smart and are constantly developing ways to bypass security measures. Be smarter than the hackers by staying on the cutting edge of network security technology.

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By: Paul Walsh

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Paul Walsh

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