If you don’t know what network security is, then it’s high time we remedied that problem. Network security is a term that covers all measures that are designed to provide network protection. As you’ve probably noticed, computers and the internet are used for just about everything these days. Unfortunately, the digital space has certain inherent threats, just as physical space does. These threats take different forms, but the danger has not been reduced. Because of the ever-present threat of hackers and other malicious users, network security has become more important than ever.
Understanding Some Basic Principles
When you are using the internet, you are communicating with a network of other computers. There are limits to these interactions, and these are usually controlled by passwords or similar measures. However, there are all sorts of shady ways to circumvent these security measures. While some people tend to exaggerate the threat of hackers, there is no doubt that such a threat exists and that it must be handled.
In most cases, hackers and the like are exploiting weaknesses or bugs in a given piece of software or hardware. Frequent updates can do a lot to patch these gaps, but there is no such thing as an airtight system. In many ways, we might compare a network security system with the armor worn by a medieval knight.
Every suit of armor has gaps (such as the gaps at the elbows and knees). Without them, you wouldn’t be able to move while wearing the armor. Thus, there is a functional limit to the amount of protection that can be provided. Medieval warriors learned to target the gaps in the armor, circumventing it entirely. In like manner, hackers find those small functional gaps in a security system and exploit them.
That’s why network monitoring is important. By using network monitoring software such as Wireshark or Nmap, you can tell when something suspicious is occurring. At that point, appropriate counter-measures can be taken against the threat. Without that early warning system, it is likely that a hack will not be detected until it is too late.
Areas Of Network Security
Because of the expansive nature of the internet, there are many matters that have to be considered when designing a tight security system. For those who may know little to nothing about such things, let’s cover some of the key areas that need to be secured. We will also provide some effective network security solutions that can help you to tighten your setup even more.
Website Access Control
For public networks, some degree of website access control is usually employed. At the very least, most public computers will keep you from looking at seedy things like pornography, gore videos, and other kinds of adult/objectionable material. However, these are just the obvious things. You will probably need to disallow more than these.
Torrent sites are one of the most important things to control because these are most often used for illegal downloading. If you administrate a public or semi-public network, you definitely don’t want anyone doing anything illegal. This can bring trouble down on you, or at least bring you a lot of negative attention.
It’s probably a good idea to disallow the use of the TOR network. While some people use this software for legitimate reasons (like free speech and privacy), it is also the primary means by which people get on the “dark web.” This is a semi-hidden part of the internet where all sorts of illegal activities happen. You definitely don’t want your business associated with that kind of thing.
For private home networks, you may or may not need to implement website access controls. If you have children, you probably want to maintain some control over the websites that they can access. We would advise you not to go crazy with this, and only restrict sites that pose a real danger. In general, you just need to think about who uses your computer and what they are likely to do.
Use Of Encryption And Proxies
It is extremely important to use encryption and proxies if you want good security. Encryption is basically a method of data scrambling. All computer data consists of ones and zeros when rendered into its most basic form. By scrambling that data, you make it theoretically impossible for someone to read the data. Everything is still there, but you cannot unscramble it without a decryption key.
What if the hacker gets the key, you ask? Well, that’s kind of hard because the password is the decryption key. The computer uses the password to generate the decryption key. Thus, it is extremely unlikely that anyone will get the decryption key unless you foolishly disclose your passwords.
Encryption may not be perfect, but it is presently the most reliable way to protect your data. There are basically four kinds of encryption:
- Disk encryption
- Network encryption
- VPN encryption
- Email encryption
Disk encryption is the scrambling of data that is present on a hard drive. By doing this, you can prevent physical access to a computer or other connected device. For instance, let’s say you have a housemate that you don’t completely trust. In such a case, you might want to encrypt your entire hard drive to prevent the possibility of direct access. There are times when even the FBI has failed to get past full-disk encryption.
Network encryption and VPN encryption are very similar, but not quite the same. While network encryption (like HTTPS) provides end-to-end encryption for whole websites and the internet in general, a VPN is a more personalized version of the same thing. A VPN creates a private encrypted “tunnel” between your computer and the internet. In other words, no one can see essential information like your IP address, nor can they interfere in your interactions with legitimate websites.
Email encryption is a pretty simple matter on the surface, but it can be harder than you might think. There are many encrypted email services out there, with Protonmail and Posteo being two of the most popular. However, good encryption is no substitute for safe habits. Make sure everyone on your network knows to ignore strange emails or emails that appear to be forged. Most email attacks work by tricking the recipient into clicking on a boobytrapped link. Don’t worry, this one is safe.
Firewalls are aptly named, as they provide a virtual wall of protection that shields your computer from a variety of threats. As we said before, the internet is basically just a bunch of computers that are connected. By using a firewall, you can control which sites and computers are able to interact with yours.
The firewall acts as a filter for all network traffic. Based on a set of predetermined rules, it will prevent any connections that are deemed unsafe. Of course, a firewall can only be as effective as the rules that it follows. Because firewalls are limited in this way, they are not the most effective security measure. However, they do provide one more security barrier that might stop an intruder. Considering how easy it is to set up and use a firewall, there is no reason to forego its protection.
Firewalls can be very effective if you know how to use them. It all comes down to a simple concept called compartmentalization. By subdividing your system or network into a number of smaller component pieces, you can limit the impact of any potential problem. By using a compartmentalized system, you can isolate problems as soon as they are detected. This limits the amount of damage that can be done. Thus, your best bet is to use multiple firewalls that subdivide the system into functional groups.
Data Loss Prevention
Good security isn’t just about protecting yourself from hackers and other such threats. You also have to protect yourself against the possibility of data loss. Sometimes, random malfunctions can cause more damage than any single hacker could ever hope to do. Whether you’re a private individual or a business owner or anything in between, you don’t want to risk losing your data.
As part of a good network security setup, you should make sure that all essential information is backed up on physical media. This could be optical disks, external hard drives, or any other means of information storage. The important thing is that these hard backups must exist independent of the internet or any other system.
It is usually possible to program a computer for regular automated backups. This can save time and free up your IT staff for other tasks. On Windows computers, these options can be found in the control panel under “system and security.” Mac computers offer an app called “Time Machine” which fulfills the same purpose. Linux systems can choose from a whole list of backup programs, with Bacula and BackupNinja being two of the most popular. It’s also good to have a cloud backup, just in case something goes wrong with your physical media.
We touched on this subject a little bit earlier, so let’s discuss it in greater detail. Because no network can ever be 100% secure, monitoring is the only way to make sure that threats are detected and dealt with quickly. This is where your IT staff will really earn their pay, as network monitoring cannot be fully automated.
For home networks, network monitoring is still an option. You may not have an IT department to monitor things 24/7, but you can still monitor your traffic to a certain extent. Wireshark and Nmap are two great open-source solutions that will allow you to monitor your network as closely as you like.
When your computer is connected to other computers via the internet, all of these computers are constantly exchanging information. This information takes the form of web packets, each of which will normally contain 1000-1500 bytes of information. Wireshark is a packet monitor that allows you to look at these communications in real-time.
Nmap, on the other hand, is what its name implies: A network map. It shows your computer as the center of a web, showing every computer to which it is presently connected. If a strange computer shows up in your connection web, you know that someone is trying to gain illegitimate access to your network. In some cases, these will just be advertisers trying to spam you with ads, but they might also be a serious threat.
You can’t always count on your antivirus software to eliminate every threat. When something malicious manages to get past your defenses, it should be manually deleted. This will include deleting any subdirectories that are associated with the infected file. In some cases, these files are resistant to deletion. In these cases, you need someone with a little more skill to get rid of them.
Once a virus gets through your defenses (and it’s likely that it will happen at least once), prompt and professional action is crucial. The longer that virus stays embedded in the system, the more damage it can do. So, although your antivirus software can provide a great early-warning system, you can’t trust it to do all the work for you.
For private users who need a simple solution, we would recommend the use of a program called FileAssassin. This is a program that can delete almost anything. If you don’t want to delete the file, you can simply unlock it using the provided utility. That way, you can neutralize the threat, analyze it to learn what you can, and then delete it forever.
There are all kinds of network security solutions that can help to make your network a little safer. This is only an introduction to a broad and complex subject, but we trust that you will now have the knowledge to move forward with your network security plan. If you have enjoyed this article and found it to be helpful, please fill out the contact form below.