By Gary Stevens

When one person manages the majority of your organization’s network and IT business functions, it’s easy for them to become overwhelmed.

In the midst of helping employees with workstation issues and making sure the hardware functions properly, there’s the “small” matter of protecting the company’s network from malicious cyberattack.

With so much to do, how does one prioritize security measures?

Here are five steps to help an SME maintain reliable network security and protect the business from various types of cyber-threats.

1. Start With the Best in Firewall and Antivirus Protection

A firewall is often the first line of defense when it comes from preventing data breaches. The thing to remember is that new threats are created daily – hourly even. Over time, they’ve become more sophisticated. Some may even be able to circumvent your present firewall if it’s outdated.

When was the last time you replaced your firewall with a new version or a new product altogether? If it’s been three years or more, it’s time to look at something different. You may be able to get a free or deeply discounted upgrade of the same product. If not that, look for a great introductory deal from a different provider.

When it comes to a firewall, always be auditing your software and making sure your firewall is up to date.

And it’s not only about the firewall. You also want the best in anti-virus protection, even if it costs a little more. While a free version may be all right for home use, it doesn’t fly for a business. Make sure that your subscription includes enough licenses to cover devices used by remote employees.

Start by comparing the features of any anti-virus software product carefully. You’ll find that the fee-based products have considerably more to offer than their free counterparts. Remember to verify that the product comes with free updates and maybe even a free upgrade in the future.

That saves money while still ensuring you have the best protection from viruses, malware, spyware, and other threats.

2. And Keep All Your Software Updated

Most anti-virus software can be set to automatically update. In a small business environment, that’s usually a good idea. Instead of having to check for updates, set the software features to automatically scan, upload, and install the updates during hours when the business is not operating.

If you feel compelled to personally review updates before they are installed, set the process so you receive alerts that updates are pending, review them as quickly as possible, and then install them. Build this procedure into your day and there’s less chance for a breach to occur in the interim.

3. Manage Network Login and Password Data Carefully

One of the more likely points of exploitation that hackers use is login and password data. The problem can be that the credentials are too easy to guess, or that no one ever got around to removing login data once an employee left the company. It can also happen when login and password data are not changed on some type of recurring basis.

Strengthening procedures for network login and password credentials is not all that difficult. Structure the process so that it’s mandatory for all login credentials to be updated at least once a quarter. Even once a month is not too much. If a user fails to select new credentials, the old ones expire on a certain date and access will be denied.

Remember that your IT professional can provide helpful suggestions on how to create login credentials that are less likely to be easy prey for hackers. Put those suggestions to good work, and keep the list of authorized users up to date.  

4. Run Checks on All Aspects of Your Virtual Private Network

A virtual private network (VPN) is the reigning best online security software technology for anyone who goes online, but it’s especially critical if your employees don’t show up at the same physical location for work every day.

The right network setup will allow for remote as well as local access. The person in charge of your VPN will want to ensure the process is set up so that those working remotely have secure access at all times. Like Antivirus software (and firewalls, and any other security protection for that matter), avoid using a self-described “free” VPN. Many free VPNs often have security holes, and keep logs of your traffic. In other words, they actually make you less private – not more.

To some degree, this means standardizing the devices that are used in-house and remotely to access the network. For example, it’s easier to maintain control if remote employees only access using company-issued devices. They can all be the same brand and model, and have the same safety software installed on each.

Local employees will have the same desktop, laptop, or tablet devices to work in the office, and use standardized protection software on each of those devices. In this case, uniformity is your friend in terms of preventing network security breaches.

Do you regularly review network activity logs? You should. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of what threats were blocked, which sites employees visit during the workday, and the overall health of the system.

Along with basic daily monitoring, conduct a more in-depth sweep at least monthly. In the best-case scenario, everything will be in order. If not, you have the chance to make changes that help to strengthen the network.

Have a Professional Evaluation at Least Every Two Years

Along with all of your efforts, it pays to have a professional come in and take a good look at your network setup. Fresh eyes and all that. It’s likely the lifeblood of your business and should be treated as such. Besides the regular checkup, don’t hesitate to call in outside help when the need arises. In the long run, your investment in network security will pay off in terms of keeping your data out of the hands of those who should never see it.

The Bottom Line

The previous suggestions aren’t intended as a complete guide to securing a network, but if you’re short on time and hands, you can’t go wrong by completing these steps first. The current state of the internet is one brimming with vulnerabilities and exploits. How effectively you deal with them is not just a technical thing you’ll address some day. We’re talking about the very survival of your company.

Ever heard of a nasty little beastie called ransomware?

Gary Stevens is a front end developer. He’s a full time blockchain geek and a volunteer working for the Ethereum foundation as well as an active Github contributor.

Tech stock photo by peampath2812/Shutterstock