Tips: Best Practices For Network Security

Businesses seeking to protect their sensitive systems and data must be just as aggressive as the hackers and solidify their approach to network security practices, systems and management. Just about any network, no matter how well protected, can be breached if hackers invest enough time and effort (and money) to break in. The key to a successful security strategy is to make your systems so time-consuming and difficult to break, with no weak points and fresh layers of protection added consistently, that the hackers conclude it’s not worth their time and search for easier targets. PEAK Technologies offers tips for strong network security.

Protect All Avenues of Attack. The first step toward establishing an aggressive security posture is to make sure all avenues of attack are equally secure. For the “wired” portion of a network, this means up-to-date network firewalls and proxy servers that provide protection from all the latest Internet viruses and worms, and to control access into your network in a very organized and secure manner. The increasing use of wireless devices in enterprise networks presents a serious new challenge for network administrators. Hackers may literally drive around with laptops, looking for wireless points of access on corporate networks, and then relentlessly test the authentication protocols to try and get their laptops accepted into a network. Many retail operations may have good security procedures for credit card information in their stores. However, the warehouse that supports those stores and uses wireless devices in its operations often has a much lower level of security. As a result, hackers may be able to break in to the company’s databases and access that same credit card data, from an entirely different angle.

Data Encryption. Any data moving through the air must be protected. It must be encrypted using an actively changing encryption protocol, such as the widely adopted WIFI Protected Access (WPA) protocol, which uses the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) to periodically rotate the data encryption WEP key. This is better and much safer than using a static WEP key, which many older systems utilize.

Device Authentication. A standalone authentication server must confirm that a wireless device is permitted to access the network. Authentication is through security “certificates,” or software records that define precisely what the wireless device is and what access is permitted. Certificates should have expiration dates, and be updated routinely. If a device attempts to attach and its certificate is out of date, the authentication server will reject it.

Rogue Device Detection. With many people setting up home WIFI networks, wireless routers are now commonly available -- which means they’re showing up where they don’t belong, on corporate networks. If someone wants to wirelessly synch their PDA with their office computer, and they bring it into the office, these “rogue” devices, without any network security features, are the prime targets many hackers are seeking. Companies need to incorporate rogue device surveillance tools into their security architecture to identify and flag devices and shut them down, before they become the hole in the network wall.

Good Password Practices. These include routinely forcing passwords to expire and be updated, and use of “strong” passwords -- at least 15 characters long, with upper and lower-case characters, numeric and symbols required. Mixing letters and numbers are not enough anymore

Annual Security Audits. PEAK Technologies recommends security audits for companies either implementing or upgrading their wireless platforms. An effective audit should always include:

  • Evaluating encryption and authentication schemes and their strengths and weaknesses against all the latest risks and identifying what needs to be updated.
  • Physically inspecting all company environments (offices as well as warehouses) to detect rogue devices connected to the network.
  • Simulate an attempted hacker’s attack, to identify any vulnerabilities that have been overlooked.

Annual security audits provide a valuable management framework to keep your network security one step ahead of the hackers. It ensures that security is an actively managed issue for your network, not something that is set up once and then allowed to languish, making your business more vulnerable with each passing day.

The bottom line: Constant network vigilance is worth the investment. Force those hackers to spend more time on a secure system and they’ll look for easier fruit to pick.

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