Network security for Your small business

You may think that as small business owner you’re less likely to be a victim of cyber attacks. But according to the Verizon 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), 28% of breaches involved small businesses, and this number is likely to grow. Each year, cyber attacks continue to rise, and there is no indication that this will change. To protect your applications, devices, users and data, it’s essential you take precautions to safeguard your network, so you don’t become part of these alarming statistics.

What is network security?

Your network is made up of hardware, software, applications, devices, users and data that are all interconnected so they can be accessed by your employees to conduct business. Network security includes the actions you take to protect your network from threats and unwanted access.

What are the benefits of using a firewall?

A firewall monitors and filters incoming and outgoing traffic to your network according to security rules you establish. By choosing when to allow traffic into your network, or when to block it, a firewall provides a barrier between your network and the internet.

What are some types of network security?

There are many types of network security. Let’s look at the top 11.

1. Access control

Only allow employees access to the systems they need to do their jobs. Review access on a regular basis.

2. Antivirus and anti-malware software

Install antivirus and anti-malware software and keep it up to date. These applications will detect malware upon entry, monitor systems to remove malware and fix any damage that may occur as a result.

3. Firewalls

A good firewall will monitor traffic in and out of your network, allowing or blocking access based on established security rules.

4. Email and application security

Always build security into custom applications and set security rules in third-party applications to protect unwanted access. Use the available security features in your email client, such as email filtering, to block emails with malicious senders and content.

5. Data loss prevention (DLP) procedures

Establish procedures for protecting sensitive data and ensure all employees are aware and compliant. Consider implementing DLP technologies that prevent the unsafe handling of data both inside and outside the network.

6. Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Use a VPN to create a layer of protection when conducting business on a device outside the network, such as on employee computers. A VPN will prevent unwanted access to your network over unsecured or public networks.

7. Update firmware

Always stay on top of the latest firmware updates for your network devices. These updates provide important security updates, bug fixes and performance enhancements.

8. Secure your Wi-Fi network

Keep your router secure by changing the default password, turning off remote management and logging out as the administrator upon set up. Turn on WPA2 or WPA3 encryption to protect information sent over your network. Manage access to your Wi-Fi, and consider establishing a guest network for visitors.

9. Back up data

Make sure your data backs up to a secure source on a regular basis. Should anything happen — a breach or system failure — you can restore data from your backup.

10. Have a data recovery plan

Prepare for the worst-case scenario by having a plan to recover your data.

11. Educate employees

Your employees are your front line of defense. Provide regular awareness and training activities so they know how they can help protect the company from a breach.

What are some computer safety tips?

Oftentimes, a network of computers is central to a small business's operations, but these networks can be compromised. Don't fall victim to a security breach.

Instead, follow the computer safety tips below:

  • Protect computers physically. Never let someone else use your computer. Always lock your computer before stepping away from your desk and turn it off when not in use. When on the go, always keep your computer with you or store it in a secure location.
  • Enable auto-update features and set reminders to keep your software up to date. 
  • Like software, the operating system (i.e. Windows or Mac OS) has vulnerabilities that updates can fix. Set these updates to automatically install, or make sure to install them as soon as possible.
  • Use protective software. Anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software can do a great deal to protect your business. Once you install this software, keep it running and update it regularly.
  • Password protect all computers. Your computers should be set so that they lock when unattended or shut down and require a password to regain access. Change the related password (and all passwords for that matter) frequently.
  • Back up often. If a computer is compromised, you'll be grateful to have backup files. You can use a cloud storage provider or an offsite management vendor or store your data on a separate backup server. You can even use discs or zip drives but be sure to store them separately.
  • If you're not using the webcam, cover it. Cameras can be turned on without the user's knowledge, allowing a hacker to watch. The easiest way to protect against this is to grab a Post-it note and cover the camera.
  • Use a data encryption tool on all data that is stored or transmitted on any type of mobile device or computer. Encrypting highly proprietary, confidential or critical data stored on your network servers or computers also protects your most sensitive data.
  • Dispose of old computers properly. Getting rid of computers can be dangerous because simply deleting files is not enough. Erase the hard drive altogether to make it impossible for others to recover your business's information.

How to secure a network

If your computers are networked via a server, similar precautions should be taken for your server. These include using a firewall, keeping server software and operating system up to date, using passwords, and keeping your server physically safe (e.g. in a locked room).

A wireless network comes with unique risks as well. Here are some tips for how to secure a network:

  • Change the name of your network to something other than the default.
  • Turn off network name broadcasting unless you're offering wireless access to guests. Having this option turned off will limit the use of your network to your business associates.
  • Use the MAC address filter. Every device that connects to your wireless network has a unique ID. You can limit wireless connections to known IDs through your router.
  • If your router has a firewall, be sure it's turned on.
  • Use encryption. WPA2 encryption is recommended and is often available in your router's settings.
While there is no foolproof way to protect your computers or network, taking steps to secure your network can reduce your chances of falling victim to an attack. Visit the Nationwide Business Solutions Center for more resources to start or run your business.
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The information contained in this blog was obtained from sources believed to be reliable to help users address their own risk management and insurance needs. It does not and is not intended to provide legal advice. Nationwide, its affiliates and employees do not guarantee improved results based upon the information contained herein and assume no liability in connection with the information or the provided suggestions. The recommendations provided are general in nature; unique circumstances may not warrant or require implementation of some or all of the suggestions. Nothing in this brochure is intended to imply a grant of coverage.