“No thank you, we have a firewall already.” The office manager of Ed Wells Construction Company politely declined the suggestion of her IT Managed Service provider, who had proposed that a new, enterprise-grade firewall be installed to protect the network. The current firewall was built into the router provided by the telecom company and the provider was concerned it wouldn’t be secure enough, but the decision makers at Ed Wells were having none of it.

The rep for the provider explained, “I understand not wanting to add expense, but the firewall you have really isn’t very strong.  I worry that your network is vulnerable.”

The office manager offered a smug reply. “Well, it’s secure enough if no one has managed to hack us yet!”

The rep couldn’t help himself when he replied, “With all due respect, that’s because no one has bothered to try. But this is what I do for a living and I’m telling you – this network is not safe behind that firewall.”

Windows security dialog box

Patches and updates are crucial to network security.
Image courtesy of Microsoft

One of the most common misconceptions among small business owners is that the security systems they have in place for their network are sufficient. These businesses mistake a lack of intrusions or security breaches for evidence that the network is secure. But just as it is impossible to prove a negative, the absence of a network attack does not prove a particular level of security. More importantly, the most common way businesses discover that their network security is lacking is when an intrusion has taken place and it’s too late to do anything about it. Monitoring and managing a small business network doesn’t have to be complicated, but ignoring it because you don’t know where to start is asking for trouble.

Here are five suggestions for providing greater security to your network quickly and without significant expense. These suggestions may seem overly basic, but your small business is almost assuredly ignoring some of them.  

  1. Create a new password for your firewall.  Most firewalls come with a default password like “admin” or “123456.” For some reason, many people never consider changing the password. Having an easy-to-guess password on your firewall is like having no password at all. There are even websites listing the default passwords for the most common firewalls on earth. If you do nothing else to secure your network, make sure to change your password! When doing so, avoid using things like the company name or street address as any part of the password. These are the first things would-be hackers will try.
  2. Give your firewall a new name.  Similarly, most network devices come with a default name that is either a numerical ID or a brand name. If your wireless network shows up as “1a23@e5739etc2” or “linksys,” then it is sure to get the attention of hackers. Why? Because those individuals interested in accessing your network will (correctly) identify that if you haven’t changed the name of the router, you probably also neglected changing the default password.
  3. Apply software updates.  A starting number of work machines that aren’t managed by IT service providers are lacking patches and updates necessary to keep them running optimally. These updates are crucial for covering up vulnerabilities discovered by the manufacturer. Not updating or patching your machines means you are leaving those holes open and your network exposed. Patches and updates are almost always free, so there is simply no good reason to avoid updating your machine regularly.
  4. Install quality antivirus products.  There are free anti-virus products available for use by individuals and small businesses. But even if your organization has very few dollars to spare, is protecting your network from a potentially disastrous intrusion really a good place to pinch pennies? High quality anti-virus software costs less than $100 per year (and in some cases, less than $50) and can provide real protection and peace of mind for all of your connected systems.
  5. Set up a VPN.  With more and more work taking place out of the office and through mobile devices, accessing your in-office network securely should be a priority. A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, allows you and your team to access in-house servers and systems over a private and encrypted connection safe from the prying eyes of would-be hackers. VPN’s can cost as little as $10 each month and are a necessity if your team is accessing company servers and workstations from outside the office.
  6. Separate your passwords.  With more and more internet services requiring passwords, it is critical that passwords used for work differ from passwords used for personal internet use. If your Twitter password is the same as your company bank password and Twitter experiences a security breach, then suddenly your banking information is exposed, as well. Using unique passwords for office and work services is an easy way to add an extra level of security to your network.

Is your network safe? Are you sure? What are you basing that assessment on? The reality is that many small businesses never face a security intrusion due to simple math: there are millions of small businesses in the United States alone, so the odds are remote that any specific business will be violated. But just as sobering is the fact that 80% of all small businesses that experience a security intrusion never fully recover. Think about that: for every five small businesses that experience a network intrusion, four never recover from the damage done. Do you really want to risk it? The tips above should help lock down your network and protect it from the most common attacks and intrusions. And if its time to invest in even more robust security, click here to contact Mosaic NetworX for help!