Network security is more important than ever. In 2021, data theft increased by 68% compared to 2020. Network security professionals need a specific skill set to deter hackers and strengthen their defenses. Since the network is only as strong as its weakest link, IT pros often have to train employees in cybersecurity best practices. Keeping workers from exposing passwords or visiting potentially dangerous sites is as much a part of the job as building ironclad firewalls.
Here is a closer look at the most dangerous network security threats you may encounter and the steps necessary to protect against them.
Malicious software or firmware (malware) are unauthorized programs downloaded to a device or computer network. Most often, someone unknowingly installs malware by clicking a link or performing an action that triggers a download.
There are different types of malware. A rootkit allows remote access to a secured computer or network, while spyware captures and transfers data about activity on a network. Malware programs may also contain viruses or worms, which are self-replicating programs that can infect other devices or computers on the network.
Network security professionals can protect against malware by limiting downloads on devices connected to the network and training employees to vet the sources of downloads before proceeding. It is possible to run anti-virus software to detect malware, but preventing downloads in the first place is a better option since malware can do damage as soon as it’s installed.
One of the most damaging types of malware is ransomware. A ransomware program typically encrypts files on a website or network so that the entire system is unusable. The hacker will usually promise to decrypt everything after receiving a ransom payment. They can also use malware or stolen passwords to access a system and steal sensitive data. They will then threaten to release or sell the data unless the owner pays them.
Ransomware is an especially challenging threat because cybercriminals are constantly changing tactics and targeting new vulnerabilities.
Ransomware prevention includes maintaining robust cybersecurity systems and practices. You can use two-factor authentication (2FA) to avoid password-based breaches and restrict downloads to protect against malware installations. Virus scanners and email spam settings can help protect against someone unwittingly installing a ransomware program on the network via email.
It is also important to have a ransomware plan to enact if an attack takes place.
Denial-of-service (DoS) and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are different cybersecurity challenges. Rather than breaking into your computer system or network, hackers seek to overload it from the outside.
DoS attacks involve one computer that uses programs to send numerous requests or queries to a website or servers. The goal of the attack is to generate so much traffic that the site or server must shut down. While it is offline, legitimate users, such as customers, visitors, or employees, cannot use the system.
DDoS attacks rely on the same strategy of overwhelming servers. However, hackers using this method rely on many different computers or devices. They may temporarily hack vulnerable devices, like smart home systems or Wi-Fi-connected Internet of Things (IoT) hardware, and use them to overwhelm servers from many different angles.
As a network security professional, you can take specific steps, such as monitoring traffic to detect spikes that could signal DoS or DDoS attacks. It’s also possible to install enhanced firewalls that detect suspicious traffic (many queries from the same location or unexpected locations) and create buffers, such as CAPTCHAs or landing pages, to deter programs that automatically generate traffic for DoS attacks.
Phishing is a type of social engineering attack. It seeks to avoid sophisticated cybersecurity systems by getting sensitive information directly from humans. Typically, phishing involves hackers masquerading as legitimate entities. They may send an official-looking email or direct you to a cloned site that mimics the look and features of a legitimate business. Once there, they may ask you to log in or provide some identifying information.
It’s not the most sophisticated internet scam, but more than 50% of IT managers consider phishing their top threat. Network security pros often need to teach employees to verify the legitimacy of emails or websites by looking at sender addresses and URLs. They can also establish a protocol for sharing and storing passwords and other sensitive information. Finally, additional security layers, such as 2FA, can keep logins secure even if someone manages to steal passwords through phishing.
Malware contains computer code that acts when downloaded. Computer viruses are a type of malware that can execute a specific action, but they are unique because they seek to replicate themselves by moving to other devices in the network. Typically, the initial recipient will unwittingly send an infected file to other network users.
Replication makes it harder to track and eliminate viruses. The same strategies for combating malware will also work for viruses. However, you’ll need to check all devices on the network to ensure you destroy all viruses within the system.
Though prevention is the best option, you can regularly run antivirus software to find viruses within the system that might have escaped notice.
Prevention is the best strategy for dealing with cybersecurity threats. Ransomware, DDoS attacks, and malware can damage your network in a matter of seconds, so the best policy is to protect against these issues.
However, hackers find new methods and vulnerabilities to exploit, so you also need to be prepared to respond to security breaches and cyberattacks. Here are three steps to stop network threats and avoid damage.
Network monitoring helps ensure a network is functioning correctly. IT professionals can look at uptime, connected devices, speed, performance, and other information in real-time. These network assessments can also help you quickly spot suspicious, unexpected, or unnatural activity, which could signal a security threat.
Network security experts monitor specific types of network data. Network telemetry, which collects information from different areas and organizes it for easy analysis, can help you locate changes to devices on the system. Look at traffic patterns within the network. A breach could cause unexpected amounts of unexpected traffic. You can also monitor protocols and look at communications between devices, the router, and servers.
The rise in ransomware attacks makes data backups extremely important. If you have the information backed up elsewhere, the ransom may not be necessary.
In other cases where there is a security breach, you can shut down, remove, or block off the compromised portion of the network and rely on backups to continue normal operations.
Cybersecurity policies, training, and best practices can help everyone in your company remain secure when using the network. However, be sure that someone doesn’t inadvertently or knowingly visit a dangerous site. You can block access to untrusted sites throughout the system by blocking them via network settings. You can also block access on modems and routers so that people cannot use personal devices to access unsafe URLs.