A Class Or Group Of Individual Objects People Animals Etc Security Is the Core of the SMB Network

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Security Is the Core of the SMB Network

There seems to be a common sense of confidence by small and medium-sized businesses that their organization will never face a critical security breach. If I had a coin for every SMB owner or decision maker who dismissed potential security threats, I’d be able to buy a yacht. The truth is that there is no safe haven when it comes to security, and no organization is safe; not the largest retailers, the smallest mom and pop distributors, or any size organization in between.

Verizon Business conducted a study in 2010 on the amount and severity of data breaches and found alarming statistics. The data breach report showed that there were 760 intrusions in 2010, compared to only 141 in 2009 (Baker, et al., 2010). Ironically, the amount of data affected or compromised was lower than in previous years, but at the end of the day, what impact would just one security incident have on your business? It can be something relatively small such as some hooligan defacing your website, or it could be a serious breach of your sales data, customer payment information and/or intellectual property. How much would this type of breach cost your business? Only you know the answer to that.

Generally, network security can be categorized as either physical or virtual. One of the best security papers I’ve ever seen was written by Richard Kissel for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a division of the US Department of Commerce. In it, Kissel outlined essential considerations for any small and medium-sized business, regardless of industry or specialization. According to Kissel, key areas to note are “‘absolutely necessary’ steps to take, highly recommended practices to avoid problems before they happen, and other optional planning contingencies in the event of a problem .” (Kissel, 2009) Most of these three sections are further divided into the two distinctions previously mentioned, physical and virtual.

Physical security is fairly simple to handle. Essentially, it involves mitigating any direct attempt to access facilities and/or assets by a person or group. Measures to consider include obvious locked doors, security cameras, security guards, etc., but potential areas of compromise also include some that are not so obvious. Not making sure your non-employee staff is up and running can be a huge oversight. Maybe someone on the cleaning team has light fingers or enough technical knowledge to break into your network. This is the perfect application for an IP camera. There are some versatile units like the APC NetBotz product line that combines environmental and intrusion monitoring with IP cameras to collect data over a period of time. Email notifications are available to designated staff or others who can then act on the information provided.

There are times when the physical and virtual elements of network security come together, and a great example of this is a token-based solution. The user has either a key fob or other physical device that generates a random passcode as needed to access an internal network as a token. If lost, the device cannot be accessed without the proper credentials, and an IT employee can remotely wipe it of all information. Some of these solutions, including offerings from RSA, deploy a software widget on employee endpoints to perform the same function. These token-based solutions can be very expensive, which is often a stopping point for most SMB organizations. However, for those who are extremely sensitive to the potential of a breach, it could be money well spent.

You’ve locked your doors, trained your staff, and added IP “eyes” designed to keep vigilance. So now you can address external threats, but where do you start? Most networks in the modern world are protected by a firewall. The term “firewall” originates from the firefighting community, and in that world, a firewall is a barrier designed to prevent the spread of fire. In a way, this is the basic function of a network firewall as the goal is to keep out anything that might harm your infrastructure. SearchSecurity.com’s broad definition of a firewall is “a set of interconnected programs hosted on a network gateway server that protects the resources of a private network from users on other networks.” (SearchSecurity.com, 2000) Did you notice that this definition did not specify hardware or software? This is because there is no reason! Typically an SMB network may include a device such as those built by Cisco, SonicWALL, or Barracuda. However, there is no reason why a network firewall cannot be software, as mentioned in the definition above, which can be found on a network router or host server. A good example of this is the firewall services built into the operating system of the Cisco router line.

Other applications that operate within the realm of the firewall include anti-virus/anti-malware, content filtering, and intrusion prevention. The first is a way to mitigate the infiltration of viruses, spyware, and the like via email or other “friendly” traffic. Content filtering prevents employees and other users from browsing websites that are not business-related, may pose potential risks, or are inappropriate in subject matter. Intrusion prevention is designed to avoid attacks by hackers and automated network or PC groups that seek to exploit any network flaws or vulnerable openings.

While the firewall is the most common application for security-conscious organizations, it should not be the only measure taken to keep the infrastructure secure. It is important to secure other entry points such as wireless networks, user PCs and laptops. Wireless networks must have an enhanced security protocol for access such as WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) or WEP (Wired-Equivalency Protocol). In many cases, if the attacker has to work to penetrate, he will likely move on to an easier target. Individual users with laptops can inadvertently bring bad stuff inside your firewall. Maybe some casual surfing at home deposits malware that goes unseen because it’s off the grid. It is imperative that when the machine is reconnected, potential threats are scanned and quarantined before they can propagate through the network.

Some security risks arise from user behavior, which suggests the need for best practice policies to be in place regardless of hardware and software investments. These include, but are not limited to:

• Require users to change passwords every 30 to 60 days

• Passwords are required to contain uppercase letters, lowercase letters, at least one number, and at least one special character

• Limiting access to different areas of the network depending on the types of users and work function

Since training is necessary, users should be required to sign upon receipt of these instructions, as well as an agreement to adhere to them.

It is not enough to have physical and virtual security. Routine maintenance on these devices and software is essential to keep it safe. The first step is to ensure that all patches and firmware are up to date on network endpoints and core devices. Second, your maintenance program should include verified and usable backups of all critical data, and there are a number of different methods, from old tape drives, to newer external drives, to solutions uninterrupted remote electronic backup.

Choosing a backup solution is all about budget and tolerance for downtime. For most, having data automatically encrypted and routed off-site to a secure location provides the best peace of mind and a valuable disaster recovery platform to mitigate loss should a situation occur.

There have been documented cases of information loss due to poor practices in the disposal of old documents and equipment. I’m reminded again of a scene in the movie Animal House when some members of the Delta fraternity are rummaging through a dumpster to find a copy of their midterm test. Do not fool yourself into thinking that there are no individuals or organizations that will take such steps. Law enforcement has opened near-death cases based on evidence taken from garbage containers and landfills. As soon as it goes out for collection, the trash becomes public property and anyone has access to it. Full distribution of organizational documents, not just financial documents, is vital. This rule doesn’t just apply to paper; it includes hard drives, data collection or any network device that stores data. Remember, properly destroyed data must always be accompanied by a certificate of destruction. If your organization is required to maintain governmental compliance, such as HIPAA or Sarbanes-Oxley, taking these precautions may not be an option, but a requirement.

Another thing, which is somewhat related to the training, is the awareness of the influence of “social engineering”. SearchSecurity.com defines this concept as “a personal or electronic attempt to obtain unauthorized information or access to sensitive systems/facilities or areas by manipulating people.” We’ve all seen phishing scams claiming that we’ve won the lottery in a foreign country, or that our cousin is stranded somewhere and needs money immediately. The same types of scams can be targeted at a business using a sympathetic ear on the phone to gain access, or a tearful email to get an unsuspecting employee to click a link to help stray animals. Once again, education and training will eliminate such violations.

The bottom line is that there is a world of bad things out there looking for a chance to make an impact. Failure to heed warnings can be costly, as nearly 50% of small businesses fail within two years of a total or catastrophic data loss or event. So security should be the first priority to make sure your organization is on the right track. Don’t let your guard down and stay alert, and the resulting peace of mind is irreplaceable.

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