Network Security Best Practices for Small Businesses

Business computer networks brought many advancements and possibilities, changing the way companies operate forever. Massive amounts of data is shared constantly and allows us to be more connected than ever. 

But as with everything, there is a downside. New ways of doing business means new ways of being attacked. Cybersecurity threats are rampant in today’s digital landscape and attackers are continuously finding new ways to get into networks and get ahold to sensitive data. 

This is why all businesses, regardless of size or industry, require proper network security measures and solutions. But where to start? 

man suffering from a network security issue

Defining network security

Think of network security as all measures that a business takes in order to protect the integrity, privacy and accessibility of their computer network and data. Typically, network security will consist of:

  • Physical network security: These are the measures put up for preventing unauthorized personnel from gaining physical access to network equipment. Whether it’s a deliberate act of espionage, theft, or simply natural disasters that can physically destroy data, physical security is an important part of business network security. Even in the post-COVID remote business environment.
  • Security software and solutions: Here we have all the solutions for network defense and protection across all layers: firewalls, VPNs, intrusion detection and prevention systems, device security, antimalware, email security, and the like.
  • Users: All it takes is one wrong click of a button. Humans are the first line of defense, but are also often the weakest. This is why investment in raising network security awareness is a crucial part of network security.
  • Network security policy: The administrative part of network security consists of policies and processes that outline roles, responsibilities, privileges and behavior of everyone on the network in order to secure the data and other assets on it.

Importance of network security for small businesses

While it might seem that only large and well-known organizations are targeted, medium and small businesses are impacted by security threats just as badly — they just don’t make the headlines. 

Reports show that nearly one-in-three data breaches involve small businesses. It shouldn’t come as a surprise as the sad truth is that small businesses have more restrictive budgets for network security than large corporations, making their defenses easily breachable. This is further corroborated by research that shows a worrying statistic of 43% of small businesses that don’t have any network defense plan in place. 

You are never too small to be a target: at the very least a small business will have personal and financial information about customers and intellectual property. This data can be sold on the black market, making it attractive to attackers. This is why businesses, with an accent on small businesses, need to think about their network security and what they are doing to keep their data secure. 

10 best practices for small business network security

We have previously written about cybersecurity best practices for small businesses in 2021, but now it’s time to focus on the network side of security. Here are the top 10 network security best practices for small businesses:

Raise network security awareness

While employees and users on the network often are the weakest link in small businesses’ network security, they can also be their best defense. Investing in network security training even moderately can reduce security risks by a far.

Network security training should provide every employee with the ability to recognize signs of common network threats and to know how to respond and to whom to report if a threat is suspected. Additionally, training should include best practices that will cover the basics of password security, email security and safe online behaviors.

Trust no one 

While it’s important to have your defenses set to protect against external forces and threats, it’s equally as important to be aware of what is going on inside the network.

After all, not everyone that has authorized access to your business also has benevolent intentions. Integrity and security of your data can be in danger from disgruntled former employees or even inattentive ones accidentally opening a malicious link. 

“Never trust, always verify” is the principle behind Zero Trust methodology. Zero Trust is centered around the belief that businesses should never automatically trust anything inside or outside of their network.

With Zero Trust, everything and anything that tries to connect to the network needs to be verified before getting access. To do this, small businesses can rely on using technologies such as multi-factor authentication, identity and access management, and encryption. 

Employ network security solutions

network security technician working on a server

On the more technical side of small business network security, we have the myriad of network security software and solutions. There are many devices, assets and components on a network that need protection, and there is technology designed to defend each. Small businesses should consider implementing the following: 

  • Firewall: One of the first lines of defense, firewalls monitor traffic passing through the network. If any suspicious traffic is noticed, the firewall blocks it. With an effective firewall you can prevent anything malicious from entering your network and protect your data from being compromised.
  • IDS: Intrusion detection system — IDS, spots any malicious activity on your network so it can be promptly investigated and stopped before causing a full-fledged data breach. With an IDS, your small business will be able to respond to attacks quickly, before any real damage is made.
  • NAC: Network access control is a solution that helps keep unauthorized users and devices out of your network. The access will be restricted to only those devices that are authorized and deemed safe to connect. It is extremely useful for businesses that have a wide range of devices connecting to the network, such as healthcare practices.
  • Anti-malware: Viruses, works, Trojans, spyware, ransomware: the list of malware just goes on. Anti-malware solutions have long been a staple for both business and individual network security, and should never be skipped on, even if it seems old-school. Anti-malware will detect and remove any malicious software it discovered in your network.
  • Email filtering: Email scams and phishing emails are a constant nuisance. Once you’ve educated your employees on how to spot a phishing email – make it even easier for them with email filtering. Email spam filters will detect unwanted and potentially malicious emails and prevent them from landing in your business mailbox.
  • Web filtering: Web filter solutions will stop users on a network from viewing certain websites, applications or performing downloads from specific sources. This is a great way to ensure nobody from the company is unknowingly accessing a website that is known to host malware.

Keep everything updated 

Now that you have enforced strong network defense with numerous security software and solutions, in order to have them functioning properly and safely, they need to be updated. Bugs and vulnerabilities can pop-up in any software, and the chances of them increase when the software is outdated.

According to a survey, 34% of organizations have been breached as a result of an unpatched flaw. Software vendors are usually diligent in releasing updates and patches so it’s important to be equally diligent in applying those updates, automating them when possible.

Protect your website

Website is often the primary channel of communication with your customers and clients. But websites are under network threats daily. Many browsers today will indicate to a visitor that the site they are visiting is unsecure, not doing any favors for the reputation, and in turn revenue, of the site owner.

Raising the security of your website will also help you with ranking better on Google. At the minimum, your small business’s website should have a valid SSL-certificate and use HTTPS connection.

Perform penetration testing

In order to catch an attacker, you must think like one. Well, not exactly you, but there are third-party teams and tools to do so.

Penetration testing is basically actively looking for vulnerabilities and holes in a network that can be exploited by cyber attackers and then fixing them. It is done with tools and techniques akin to those used by attackers.

While it’s more common to consider pen testing as something only larger organizations turn to, the need for it to happen in smaller organizations comes down to maintaining security and compliance.

If there are simply no requirements for hiring outside teams to perform pen-testing, there are many free, publicly available tools to do employ. 

Use a VPN

VPN is a network security must-have and is becoming increasingly important with the rise of remote working. A virtual private network — VPN, adds an extra layer of security to web browsing by having all access to the internet go through an encrypted tunnel. It hides the data that is travelling through the network, not allowing anyone to spy or intercept it. 

Have a disaster recovery plan

Preparing for the worst is important in small business network security. However good your defenses and protection are, the chances of suffering a cyber attack are still there. Developing a disaster recovery plan — DRP is the main practice to ensure no major damage occurred as a result of a network breach and you are back on your feet quickly. DRP will consist of, firstly, backing up all data so it can be recovered after an attack, procedures and steps needed to take, and roles and responsibilities for every employee in the case of a disaster.

Create a network security policy

The administrative side of network security is crucial in not only maintaining security, but also compliance to different government regulations and industry standards. A IT security policy serves to inform all users on a network about requirements for protecting assets on the said network.

Some of the network security policy best practices are:

  • Establish who has access to critical data.
  • Control the amount of access.
  • Outline accepted behavior on a network.
  • Identify known risks.
  • Create detailed recovery plans and practice them.

Additionally, small businesses operating in regulated industries such as finance law firms, and healthcare practices must outline with what practices will they ensure compliance with relevant regulations. 

Outsource your network security

And finally, you don’t have to do it alone. Nor do you need to hire a full IT team to take care of your network security. In-house IT staff is not something many small businesses have the budget for, nor the appropriate time and resources.

Many small businesses have already found use and value from third-party IT services providers: faster updates of new technologies and methods with an already experienced team, 24/7 monitoring, and more time to focus on business-critical operations. 

Reap the benefits many other small businesses have found with managed network security services. Take control over your data and contact us to find out more.