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What Is Network Security

If your network is connected to the Internet, you need to pay attention to its security. Every system with an IP address, large or small, is a target. Regular attacks are a fact of life. Data breaches are very expensive, and even minor incidents hurt an organization's productivity. Downtime and data theft can do serious damage to your business's reputation. Doing cybersecurity right requires a multilayered approach so that there is no single point of failure. It requires constant adaptation to new threats and countermeasures. This article will give you an overview of network security fundamentals.

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Types Of Network Security Risks

Online threats may have profit as a motive, or they may just aim to do damage. They come in many forms, but they generally fall into a few categories that describe their goals.

  • Data theft is the aim of many attacks. Personal information, such as credit card numbers,  is a popular target. Thieves may also aim at trade secrets or business financial data.    
  • Disruption of operations is the aim of "hacktivists," extortionists, and agencies of hostile nations. It includes DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks, ransomware, deletion of information, and forced shutdowns.    
  • Theft of resources lets hostile parties use your systems for their purposes. Malware lets them employ hijacked computers in botnets, combining thousands or millions of computers for high-volume DDoS and other attacks. Other criminals make use of targeted systems for crypto mining, generating Bitcoin or other digital currencies for themselves.

Three Main Areas Of Network Security Fundamentals

To understand network security, you should start with its three main areas.    

  • Network infrastructure deals with the architecture and configuration of your TCP/IP network. Traditionally, it's managed by physical routers, access points, and switches from companies such as Cisco, Netgear, and D-Link. Today, they're often virtual devices implemented in software.    
  • Software includes operating systems, system software, services, and applications. Keeping it secure includes configuring it properly and managing access control.    
  • Human factors include security policies, training, and awareness testing. Without good user cybersecurity practices, no amount of hardware and software protection is sufficient for a secure network.

Infrastructure Security

The overriding rule in protecting a network's infrastructure is to keep the attack surface to a minimum. There should be as few exposed targets as possible, with a minimum of opportunities to attack them.

Redundant security is generally good. Attackers should have to break through more than one barrier to do any harm.

Physical Security

If unauthorized people get their hands on your hardware, it's hard to keep them from causing trouble. Servers and routers should be kept locked away safe from visitors and trespassers. Using a well-run data center may be the best way. Tell employees not to leave workstations turned on and unattended in areas where visitors might casually walk up to them.

Mobile devices and removable media are major sources of risk. A lost or stolen device can lead to a data breach if its information is unprotected. Any mobile device or memory stick that holds confidential data needs to be encrypted.

Routers and Firewalls

The first line of defense is where your network meets the Internet. Routers should get regular firmware updates to eliminate vulnerabilities. The firewall should be configured to block access to all unused or internal-only ports. It should use a regularly updated list of malicious IP addresses to keep out rogue network traffic.

Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) are growing in popularity. In addition to the functions of a normal firewall, they analyze incoming packets and block malicious ones. They're tailored to the applications you have installed.

Network Configuration

The setup of a computer network makes a major difference in its security. Servers that don't provide publicly accessible services should be accessible only internally. Subnets help to reduce the exposure of critical components.

Wireless network security calls for special care. Al access points should use the WAP2 protocol (or WAP3 when it becomes available) and have strong passwords. Outside network access should be through virtual private networks.

A network should have regular monitoring to detect malware activity. An intrusion detection system will allow quicker detection and removal of any security threats.

Software Security

The software components that require protection include the operating system, associated system software, services, and applications. Examples include Web servers, database services, content management systems, and browsers.

Software Maintenance

You need to keep all software updated. Publishers issue security patches when they discover vulnerabilities. Neglecting to install them leaves your software open to network attacks. Most servers run a Linux or Windows OS, and keeping it up to date is crucial.

Anti-malware software on all machines stops a large proportion of any hostile code that gets onto a machine. It also needs regular updates.

Configuration And Authentication

Software configuration should follow the principle of least privilege. Capabilities that aren't needed should be disabled if possible. Users should have permission only for what they need to do. That way, the impact of compromising an account is minimized. They shouldn't use administrative accounts for ordinary work, even if they're administrators.

Spam filtering reduces the chance people will make mistakes with their email. If a phishing message never reaches anyone, it poses no threat.

Software should be configured to require strong passwords. It should require multi-factor authentication for the most sensitive accounts.

Human Factors And Cybersecurity

A case study in the UK [1] has found that four of the five leading causes of data breaches involve human or process errors. Alert, well-trained users are as important to information security as network and software management.

Protection Against Errors

Your first line of defense is to minimize the chance that an error can occur or do harm. The principle of least privilege is important here. Many applications let users be assigned roles that let them do only certain things; for instance, they may be able to view data but not alter it. The roles given to their accounts should match their responsibilities.

Spam filtering will keep most phishing mail from reaching its targets. Fraudulent messages that don't reach their targets can't do any harm.

User Training And Testing

Employees need training in computer security awareness and practices to keep from making mistakes. Periodic refreshers and testing on security concepts will keep what they've learned fresh in their minds. They don't need to become experts, but they should know a little about the fundamentals of network security.

Users need to learn to treat email with caution and be aware of social engineering tactics. They shouldn't open mysterious attachments or click on links from dubious messages. Even if the sender's name is familiar, they should think twice before trusting an out-of-character message.

Password sense is another important training area. Users should understand what makes a strong password and create their passwords accordingly. Protecting passwords and not reusing them are important considerations. Many people find that using a password manager is the best way to handle multiple passwords without making any of those mistakes.

Administrators should have specialized security training. Certifications from organizations such as CISSP and CompTIA are valuable in ensuring that they have the knowledge to deal with security issues.

Final Thoughts On Security Fundamentals

Network security is an ongoing effort. You can't just set it up once and forget it. Doing it right requires trained security professionals who know the many subtleties that go beyond networking fundamentals.

The planning process may seem daunting. You should begin with a risk assessment. Once you know what your security needs are and how well your current systems meet them, you can lay out a plan for improvements. It's a step-by-step process that requires an ongoing plan.

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