Evaluating your network on a regular basis should be part of your annual planning strategy for your small business. It can easily be pushed to the back burner while focusing on your front-line business services, but your network is the hidden backbone of your company. If it fails, it puts your entire company at risk.
The 2019 Verizon Data Breach Report revealed that 43% of cybercrime involved small businesses. A 2018 article from Inc noted that according to the National Cyber Security Alliance, 60% of small to mid-sized businesses fold within six months of a cyberattack. Those numbers are only going to get worse since the low security measures that are often put in place by small businesses make them attractive targets to cybercriminals.
So you know you need to have a network evaluation system in place, but where should you start?
Network Evaluation Criteria
In order to establish a criteria for evaluating your network, you first need to have a system in place for documenting and storing your findings. A proper evaluation can only be done if you have a blueprint of your current network.
Documentation should include protocol information, list of equipment in use, and any diagrams needed to understand the relationship between systems. Documentation should also include a summary of each evaluation. This serves as a checklist which helps save you time during subsequent evaluations. It should also note the purchase date for each item reviewed, to help you stay ahead of replacing systems before they become faulty or fail entirely.
Consistent documentation will also be an important tool in helping you identify patterns or common areas of weakness. For example if after a few evaluations you notice that most of your security breaches are from incoming email spam, that’s a pretty clear indicator that you need to put additional resources toward securing your email, perhaps with two-factor authentication and additional team training.
There are several components of network security that need to be reviewed. Something we cover frequently on our blog is antivirus and antispam, and with good reason! You need to be aware of the vulnerabilities that exist on your network in order to address them before any network flaws can be exploited by cybercriminals.
Incoming and outgoing traffic is monitored regularly by your firewall, but don’t just rely on firewall alerts to keep you informed. Someone on your staff should be monitoring your data traffic reports and updating you on the contents of those data. When evaluating the network, your firewall, antivirus, and anti-malware solutions should be reviewed and upgraded if needed.
Computers on a shared network are configured to trust one another, meaning that just one badly secured computer can bring down your entire network. Make sure that you utilize guest networks that are segmented from your business network. Review access control so that you know exactly what each user in your network has access to. Check application security for vulnerabilities or holes that can be exploited. Use a behavior analytics tool to assess abnormal activity within your network.
Ensure that your physical server is secured. Preferably, it should be in a restricted access area under 24 hour surveillance. The login information should not be left to the default setting, but updated regularly with a strong password. The default network name should also be changed so that it doesn’t broadcast your location.
This is also true when using a wireless network. Your service set identifier (SSID) should either be hidden or changed to something that does not include any identifying information. You should also confirm that all your wireless access points are encrypted.
Mobile device security is increasingly becoming an issue for small businesses. Review any corporate applications that are accessed through personal devices, and the protocols in place that allow access. You need to know what devices are accessing your network and configure those connections so that network traffic is kept private. If you don’t have a Virtual Private Network (VPN) in place it’s a good idea to consider investing in one, especially if you have a large staff working remotely.
The saying goes that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When it comes to network security, you can stay up to date on current threats through sites that monitor and report on threat activity, for example Trend Micro’s TrendWatch site. Knowing the threats that are out there help you make informed decisions when protecting your network and data.
And lastly, we always recommend having a robust training process in place for onboarding new staff in addition to ongoing all-staff training as new information and security strategies arise. Human error is the number one culprit in data breaches, so it is important not to neglect a review of your current security training when conducting a network analysis.
Whether your small business operates on a wired, wireless, or hybrid network, a major piece of your evaluation should be performance analysis. Perform tests on your network hardware and speeds. Oftentimes these tests will reveal areas that your system could or should be working more efficiently.
Keep track of the age of your computers, servers, printers, and other network components. Items that are more than 6 years old could be working up to 10 times slower than a newer one. And even if your small business operates on cloud-based resources, they can also be negatively impacted by less-than-peak network performance.
Keeping your network performance working at peak levels ensures that your employees can work with ease and efficiency.
Address Tech Needs
Once you’ve completed your network evaluation, don’t just throw the report in a drawer until the next evaluation! Review it carefully with appropriate staff and address any needs that your evaluation reveals.
Do you need additional security measures beyond regular firewall, antivirus, and malware updates? Consider installing or updating a data protection system and purchasing an intrusion prevention system. Address any personnel issues, such as changing access control for users in your network and updating your security protocols. A network evaluation only works as well as the work you put into addressing the issues it identified.
Tech Masters provides all of the above services and more through our IT Managed Services. If you are tired of wearing the IT hat in addition to everything else that falls under your CEO role, schedule a free assessment to see how we can provide value and service to your small business through managed IT.
“You need to be aware of the vulnerabilities that exist on your network in order to address them. “
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