Tuesday, April 23, 2024

How to Secure a Network: 9 Key Actions to Secure Your Data

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Knowing how to secure a network is essential for enterprise organizations that want to avoid the cost, business interruptions, and brand reputation that can result from a cyberattack or data breach. Network security safeguards your company’s network, infrastructure, data, and other digital assets using such measures as encryption, firewalls, and anti-malware to thwart malicious activities and ensure the integrity and confidentiality of your information.

The best way to secure a network is to employ a variety of cybersecurity strategies and tools, including following the nine steps detailed here to defend your enterprise from malware infections, system manipulation, and cybersecurity incidents that could compromise sensitive information and disrupt your business operations.

There are 9 actions you can take to set up a secure network.

Featured Partners: Network Monitoring Software

Apply Encryption to Data

End-to-end encryption (E2EE) ensures that data shared through your network is secure and accessible to authorized workers. Encryption security measures scramble the data sent from employee to employee or business to business so that it cannot be read by anyone without access if it is intercepted. When the encrypted data reaches the correct recipient, a password decrypts the information and grants access.

To successfully encrypt your data, you must identify security holes and choose the appropriate encryption type and tool. Identifying security holes enables preemptive strengthening of defenses, while selecting the appropriate encryption type and tool ensures reliable data protection, safeguarding against unauthorized access and potential breaches. The following steps explain how to apply encryption:

1. Identify Security Holes

Cyberthreats attack corporate networks, and one way to catch any vulnerabilities is through a security assessment. Determining the best assessment for your organization will help you understand your security needs to set up your encryption software.

  • Vulnerability Assessment: Finds weaknesses within your company’s IT infrastructure through vulnerability scanning.
  • IT Audit: Evaluates if your enterprise network’s configuration matches the industry standards.
  • IT Risk Assessment: Determines, analyzes, and assesses your company’s security risk levels.
  • Penetration Testing: Detects your enterprise network’s vulnerabilities through simulated cyberattacks.

2. Choose the Right Encryption Type and Tool

There are several encryption types and tools you can consider to bolster your network security—triple data encryption standard (3DES), advantage encryption standard (AES), and Rivet-Shamir-Adlemon (RSA) are three of the most commonly used for data security.

Triple Data Encryption Standard (3DES) Advantage Encryption Standard (AES) Rivet-Shamir-Adlemon (RSA)
  • Uses 56-bit keys for triple protection, instead of using just one 56-bit key
  • Older than the other data encryption forms
  • Takes longer to encrypt data
  • Isn’t incorporated into new tech
  • The standard encryption type
  • Encrypts data in a single block that ranges in size, offering different levels of security and encryption strengths: AES-128 (128-bit size), AES-192 (192-bit size), or AES-256 (256-bit size)
  • Relies on public keys for encryption
  • Requires technical knowledge before using
  • No patent, available license-free

AES is widely adopted for its strong security, speed, and adaptability. It employs symmetric encryption, simplifying the encryption process by using the same key for both encryption and decryption. With key sizes ranging from 128-bit to 256-bit, your organization can customize security levels to suit your needs, making AES a popular choice for protecting sensitive data across various sectors.

Encryption Tools
There are many different enterprise encryption tools to choose from. Here are the most common:

  • VeraCrypt: Encrypts the entire operating system with specific volumes and partitions; free for consumers and businesses.
  • Trend Micro Endpoint Encryption: Encrypts full volumes, files, and folders; has key management and an Active Directory for monitoring data.
  • AxCrypt Premium: Encrypts and decrypts files; helps share files within the app, access files securely from mobile devices, and secure files online via cloud storage.

Once you have selected a type and tool for your business, you can begin to implement an encryption plan.

Set Up a Firewall

Firewalls protect your network by filtering incoming and outgoing network traffic based on your company’s security policies and rules. With preset policies in place, firewalls stand out as one of the most effective network security tools to catch vulnerabilities and take preventative action.

You can install a firewall on your corporate devices to shield them from malware, and set up a web application firewall (WAF) on your Internet connection for enhanced protection. Here’s how to do so in six simple steps:

There are six steps in setting up your firewall.

1. Pick the Type of Firewall

Before you can set up a firewall for your business, you need to select a firewall that meets all of your security requirements. There are many types of firewalls—here are the most popular:

2. Secure the Firewall

After choosing the firewall type, the next step is to secure it. Designate a network administrator or IT security specialist within your company to manage firewall access. This individual should configure and update the firewall, delete or rename default user accounts, and change default passwords to unique ones.

Your network administrator must also ensure that all employees who require access have individual accounts instead of shared ones. Finally, they should deploy access controls to restrict inbound and outbound network traffic to only authorized communications.

3. Identify Firewall Zones and IP Addresses

Similar to the first step of encryption, you have to group all data and assets according to their sensitivity levels and functions. Then you can classify them into zones, assigning IP addresses accordingly. It’s important to note that web services like email or VPNs must be in their dedicated zone to limit the internet inbound traffic.

4. Establish an Access Control List (ACL)

Defining an access control list goes hand in hand with identifying network zones and IP addresses. An access control list is a set of rules that dictate which network traffic is allowed to pass through the firewall and which is blocked. Creating an ACL will allow you to control web traffic, keep your company’s network secure and improve your organization’s safety measures.

An ACL should include the following factors:

  • Sequence Number: Specifies the order in which rules are applied.
  • Name: Provides a descriptive label for the rule.
  • Comments: Allows for additional notes or explanations regarding the rule.
  • Statement/Rules: Defines the conditions and actions of the rule.
  • Protocols: Specifies the network protocols to which the rule applies.
  • IP Destinations: Determines the destination IP addresses affected by the rule.
  • Log of Recorded Devices: Details whether traffic matching the rule should be logged by the firewall for auditing or troubleshooting purposes.

5. Test the Firewall Configuration

Testing the firewall is a necessary step to check if your firewall is blocking the necessary traffic. It is highly recommended to use a security assessment, such as vulnerability scans or penetration tests. If your firewall fails these tests, it’s critical to have access to the test results and details to facilitate repeating the configuration process.

6. Set Up Firewall Management

Setting up a firewall requires follow-up care every six months. This includes revisiting the setup and future configuration to make sure that the firewall and data are well-protected from any cybercrimes.

Establish A Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts Wi-Fi, internet connections, and data transfers in your enterprise network. Most VPNs have a built-in kill switch to disconnect hardware from the network if a protected connection is lost. In addition, these tools mask an IP address, password, and browsing history.

VPNs are vital for businesses with remote employees or employees who participate in business trips, as using public or home Wi-Fi could compromise a company’s network data. They put your business at ease knowing the remote and traveling workers are protected outside of an office. Follow these steps in order to establish your VPN:

There are six steps to establishing your VPN.

1. Find a VPN Client, Server, And Router

The first step in setting up a VPN is choosing a VPN client, server, and router. The VPN client builds a secure connection between the business and the VPN server, with various options for interaction and configuration. The VPN server hosts and delivers VPN services, employing hardware and software technologies to safeguard connections. A VPN router facilitates network communication within the VPN environment, enabling connectivity with different VPN devices. These components collectively support the network’s VPN implementation and enhance its functionality.

2. Begin Prepping Devices for VPN

VPNs have a risk of not working with network and infrastructure connections due to compatibility issues. Therefore, it’s vital to ensure that your company’s devices are properly prepared for VPN setup. Testing the network is of utmost importance, and should be tailored to suit the specific infrastructure of your business.

If the VPN fails to connect to the network, it exposes systems to potential risks. To address this, it’s best to remove any previously used VPNs and plan the configuration of your network to maximize VPN effectiveness.

3. Download and Install the VPN

Download and install the software provided by your VPN service. If available, use setup guides or customer support offered by your provider. Be aware that the VPN provider may not offer software for all platforms. In such cases, download and test the available software. Finally, verify if your VPN is functioning correctly by checking your online IP address.

Remember, these steps can vary depending on the VPN provider and device, so always follow the specific instructions from your provider.

4. Set Up Login Information And Log In To The VPN

The next step is to create a secure login. If you’re setting up a VPN client for business purposes, you might need to create multiple accounts for individual employees. Ensure that all usernames and passwords are robust and secure. Once these secure logins are established, you can connect the VPN to your company’s network. This process ensures a smooth and safe connection for all users.

5. Decide On VPN Protocols

Your company needs a VPN protocol to determine how to route data between your systems and the VPN server. Each protocol has unique strengths, so it’s important to choose one that suits your requirements. Here are some of the most common:

  • OpenVPN: An open-source protocol that will allow your business to view its VPN code.
  • L2TP/IPSec: Known for solid security, it often uses the IPSec protocol to encrypt data sent to the VPN.
  • PPTP: Designed to establish VPN tunnels between public networks.

6. Troubleshoot and Check if your VPN is Secure

You must check if your business VPN is working. If it isn’t, try the following troubleshooting steps:

  • Restart the VPN and testing devices.
  • Ensure no conflicting VPNs or systems are running.
  • Use the VPN’s “repair” feature if available.
  • For login issues, retry or contact the VPN provider.

Additional Tip: Once your VPN is operational, make sure that its settings align with business needs. This includes checking when the VPN should be active, adding “favorite” or default servers if needed, and enabling a “kill-switch” for unexpected disconnections.

Be Consistent With Network Monitoring

Consistent network monitoring is the difference between being unaware of cyberattacks and seeing potential attacks before they happen. The process empowers security teams to spot abnormalities and vulnerabilities right away. Network monitoring involves checking three key aspects:

  • Configuration: Assigns and verifies network settings, policies, and controls.
  • Performance: Involves troubleshooting and reporting on various network components.
  • Availability: Assesses network uptime and its response to connection and performance demands.

Install Anti-Malware and Antivirus

Network security relies heavily on malware protection, which is primarily achieved by using antivirus software. Antivirus software acts as a defensive barrier, scanning new applications and data introduced into the network and swiftly identifying potentially malicious components. Regular updates are critical to its effectiveness to guarantee protection against the latest and emerging viruses.

In addition to detecting and blocking malware, antivirus software also defends against contemporary threats like phishing emails, malicious websites, and other advanced attacks that target users. To set up anti-malware and antivirus software:

  1. Choose Your Software: Pick and install antivirus and anti-malware software from a trusted provider—popular antivirus solutions include McAfee MVISION, Kaspersky, and CrowdStrike Falcon.
  2. Restart Your Computer: Although not required, it’s best to restart the computer after installation to allow the software to integrate more effectively with your system.
  3. Perform Scans: You should now be able to scan your networks and systems for malware. Choose from three different types of scanning:
  • Quick scan: covers common error areas and usually takes 10-20 minutes.
  • Full scan: checks the entire network and can take 30 minutes to hours.
  • Scheduled scan: scans consistently at scheduled intervals.

Update Software Often

To maintain effective cybersecurity, it is imperative to update all installed software on a regular basis, as soon as new updates become available. Antivirus software, firmware, account information, and applications used to protect a company should all be kept up to date. This prevents cybercriminals from exploiting security vulnerabilities.

Outdated security software leaves entry points vulnerable to hackers. Software update notes often disclose the specific errors that have been fixed, giving cybercriminals valuable information that they can use to target a company before the updates are applied. Regular updates are paramount not only for addressing security flaws but also for preventing potential exploitation by cybercriminals.

Why You Should Update Software Regularly

Regularly updating software is essential for several reasons. It enhances performance and protection, leading to a smoother and safer user experience. Updates also introduce new features, keeping the software current and innovative. Additionally, they can extend the lifespan of both software and hardware by ensuring compatibility and reducing the risk of failures. Lastly, updates address minor issues and bugs, contributing to the overall stability of the software.

Create Strong Passwords

Strong passwords are vital to safeguarding business data and assets. Incorporating personal details in passwords provides cybercriminals with a potential gateway to company information. To minimize the risk of security breaches, you should enforce a stringent password policy that mandates the use of strong passwords across your organization.

How to Create Secure Logins

It’s important to choose a username that’s easy to remember, but not so easy that a cybercriminal can find it through any website, business, or personal social media. Here are some key points to consider in creating secure logins:

  • Don’t Use Your Name: Using your name for a login username makes it easily hackable by a cybercriminal.
  • Don’t Use Your Email Address: Avoid using any or all of your email address as part of your account details when setting up your account. Always opt for unique and secure information that isn’t easily identifiable.
  • Don’t Use Personal Numbers: Avoid using your address, phone number, date of birth, Social Security Number, or ID number. These details can be easily exploited by malicious individuals for identity theft or other fraudulent activities.
  • Create Strong Passwords: Strong passwords are hard to guess and include more than eight characters, a random assortment of letters, numbers, capitalization, and symbols.

Set Up Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a reliable security measure that requires two types of identification for network and application access. It could involve answering a personal question, receiving a code via phone or email, or using biometric data like fingerprints. This added layer of security helps protect both company and customer data. Different platforms and applications have different steps to set up 2FA.

Setting Up 2FA For Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365 MFA.
Fig. A – Microsoft 365 MFA
  1. Login to your company’s current work account. Microsoft 365 will prompt the business for more information. Click Next.
  2. Download the free Microsoft Authenticator app and follow the steps provided.
  3. If you don’t want to use the Authenticator app, select “I want to set up a different method.” Microsoft 365 will ask for a mobile phone number, and send an SMS message with the 6-digit code to verify the device.
  4. Once you get into your account, Microsoft 365 will ask for additional verification information.

Setting Up 2FA For Google Workspace

Google Workspace MFA.
Fig. B – Google Workspace MFA
  1. Login to the Google Workspace Admin Console.
  2. Select Security on the dashboard, and scroll down to Two-Step Verification.
  3. Click Two-Step Verification and allow employees to turn on 2-step verification on their devices.
  4. Update features as needed:
  • Enforcement: Makes all employees use two-step verification
  • New User Enrollment Period: Gives employees time before adding the two-step verification
  • Frequency: Lets employees set trusted devices
  • Methods: Sets allowed methods for the two-step verification. This includes phone calls, text, and emails.
  1. Tap “Save” when the process is complete.

Setting Up 2FA For Google Android

Android MFA.
Fig. C – Android MFA
  1. Open your Google Account.
  2. Through the navigation panel, click Security.
  3. Under “Signing in to Google” on the Security page, select Two-Step Verification.
  4. Select “Get Started” and follow the instructions on-screen.

Setting Up 2FA For Apple ID

On iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch:

iPhone MFA.
Fig. D – iPhone MFA
  1. Go to “Settings” on your device.
  2. Under settings, go to your name.
  3. Under your name, click “Password & Security”.
  4. Tap “Turn On Two-Factor Authentication”.
  5. Click “Continue” and follow the instructions.

On Mac OS:

Mac MFA.
Fig. E – Mac MFA
  1. Go to Apple Menu and click “System Settings” or “System Preferences”.
  2. Click on your name or Apple ID.
  3. Under your name, click “Password & Security”.
  4. Next to Two-Factor Authentication, click “Turn On”.
  5. Follow onscreen instructions.

Educate Employees on Cybersecurity

Conduct regular cybersecurity training for all your employees to help your company avoid data breach and other related vulnerabilities. If one of your employees is not trained in cybersecurity and receives a phishing email, they might accidentally expose your company’s information. Similarly, employees who don’t understand VPNs or the risk of giving others network access can compromise your company’s network security. Both in-office and remote employees are at risk.

To ensure that employees are well-informed about cybersecurity, you can incorporate the topic in the onboarding process, teach them about various threats, train them on recognizing phishing attacks, and invest in employee training.

Make Cybersecurity Part of Onboarding

Start cybersecurity training as soon as employees onboard to establish safety for enterprise data immediately. Keep the following in mind in developing a training plan:

  • Invest in Training: High-quality cybersecurity training covers topics like safe passwords and usernames, and phishing emails; conduct extensive training on cyberthreats like ransomware and social engineering.
  • Educate Staff: Explain the importance of following security practices and repercussions of a breach. Provide information on the typical signs of threats, such as unfamiliar apps suddenly appearing, unexplained battery drainage, device slowing down unexpectedly, and unusual pop-ups causing device changes.
  • Promote Communication: Open communication about cybersecurity within your organization can make employees familiar and comfortable with a company’s security protocols and more likely to identify and report suspicious activities.

New cybersecurity threats emerge almost everyday, and security trends change frequently. Employees should be educated more than once a year while they work at your organization. Your teams should be updated as often as possible, just as the network security is regularly updated.

Train Employees To Catch Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks could look like a regular email. In some cases, the cybercriminal will make an email address that looks similar to your co-worker’s. Cybercriminals also fake domains to get an employee’s login information.

Teach your employees to ask the following questions to spot a phishing attack:

  • Is the email address misspelled or from an unknown business?
  • Is the email laid out as other emails are?
  • Is there a link asking for login credentials?
  • If it has an attachment, does it have an unusual file extension type?

You or your employees can also call the phone number of the sender and ask for further information before clicking on links or attachments. Hovering over links and attachments can give hints on the website it will lead to.

Employees should feel comfortable asking questions about possible phishing scams. Otherwise, they might open malicious emails or unknowingly share their login information to a cybercriminal.

Why is Securing a Network Important?

Network security is an important part of any business, big or small. Every company’s network is at risk of a cyberattack. Cybercrimes can lead to data loss for the organization, which can cause clients to switch with competitors. Your organization’s network, infrastructure, traffic, and data can all be affected if without reliable network security.

Benefits of Securing a Network

Securing your network brings numerous benefits to your business. Enforcing comprehensive network security measures is a proactive step that prepares your business to deal with digital threats.

Securing your network brings several benefits.

Controls Network Access
A secure network guarantees that only authorized individuals have access to it. It blocks suspicious activities and prevents external threats from infiltrating the network and compromising data.

Reduces the Risk of Cyberattack and Data Loss
Protected networks shield against unauthorized access, malware, and other cyber threats. Some network security measures, like network segmentation, minimizes the impact of cyberattacks by isolating affected systems and preventing the spread of malware. Encryption, on the other hand, ensures the confidentiality of sensitive data even if it is intercepted.

Keeps Confidential Information Safe
Sensitive information, including customer data, financial records, and intellectual property, are safe from unauthorized access and disclosure with a secure network.

Helps Avoid Legal and Reputational Damage
Secure networks mitigate the risk of legal penalties for data breaches and non-compliance with data protection laws. In addition, it protects the company’s reputation by preventing negative publicity and loss of customer trust. It also shows your company’s commitment to maintaining customers’ privacy and data security.

Builds Trust Between your Company and Customers
Keeping your network secure boosts customer confidence and loyalty. It demonstrates that you provide a secure and trustworthy environment for their personal information. This contributes to positive brand perception and customer satisfaction.

Bottom Line: Learn How to Secure a Network to Mitigate Risk

Securing a network requires a wide range of measures from encryption to VPNs to keep your company safe from data breaches or attacks. Cybersecurity attacks have become more common, therefore securing a network has grown in importance.

Following the steps in this guide and adding them to your network security plan will help you bolster your network security and improve your security posture.  The better protection your company has, the safer your enterprise data and infrastructure will be.

Network and data security are interconnected and work together to protect data transmission and sensitive information from unauthorized access, theft, or loss. Read our top picks for data security and solutions and protect your organization’s overall security.

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