Network security for preventing attacks

Data lockdown

Attacks on your company’s IT resources are inevitable. Therefore, if you only believe your network is secure, you could be placing important data at risk. You have to know. Reliable network security takes setting up defenses based on the assumption that the network has already been penetrated. Working from this mindset forces you to ensure that your data can’t be stolen by attackers from the corporate network. But how? Read on for tips on effectively securing your network to help prevent attacks.

Set alerts to prevent incomplete defense

Your IT perimeter is flexible; it does not necessarily end at your firewall. For example, critical data might reside in the cloud, on a business partner’s system, or in a SaaS application. Because of this, simply monitoring the network firewall is incomplete defense. Instead, you need to know where your private data is, and protect it at the source. To accomplish this level of network security, limit which users and applications have access to the data, and set alerts so you’ll know who accessed the data, from where, when, and what they did when they accessed it.

Set up a log management system

Log files provide the most useful data that identifies inappropriate access or a breach. The problem is that a multitude of devices and software generate log files, making it virtually impossible for a human to manually scan them all. Therefore, set up a log management system, and program it to identify unusual activity. Add an intrusion prevention system (IPS) and an intrusion detection system (IDS) to separate network noise from evidence of a breach. Many popular network security appliances now offer these functions at a reasonable cost.

Log files for ecommerce sites

If your ecommerce site is a dedicated virtual machine or hosted server, generate log files that will identify the users logging into the nonpublic portions of the website. Attackers might use authentic login credentials, but if you set the audit system on your server to identify when and where the login originates, you’ll know when an attack is under way. Specifically, this red flag is someone logging on using valid credentials from an unknown or unexpected IP address.

Employ adaptive authentication

Select and install network security applications that use adaptive authentication. This allows you to create a virtual “fingerprint” or “snowflake pattern” of approved mobile devices. Start by using multifactor authentication software for mobile devices. Then, build a profile of who uses a given device, what they access, when they access it, and the like. That way, if the device is lost or stolen and an attacker logs in, the authentication software will recognize inconsistencies on how the device is used and alert you to the breach.

Explore defense in depth network security

Even under the assumption an attacker is already in the network, you still need to continue using common defensive measures. This includes antivirus or antimalware software and maintaining a properly configured firewall at the perimeter. Defense in depth — sometimes called layered defenses — is the way you want to go. Reason being, this kind of network security is essential to identifying a breach when an attacker gets past a firewall on the perimeter router. Keep reading for specifics.

Multiple firewalls

Install multiple firewalls within the network, segregating confidential data from less crucial information. These additional firewalls — also requiring different credentials — can stop an attacker and identify that a breach has occurred. At the very least, this slows down the attacker from reaching your intellectual property.

Two-factor authentication software

Design the network so only authenticated systems can access non-public parts of your ecommerce site or business network. Your best bet is two-factor authentication software, readily available for small to midsize businesses.

Two-factor authentication software generally requires the user to have a smartphone or other device that can accept an SMS message or phone call with a special code. This code ensures that the user, whose phone number or email address is already in a white-list database, is the same person who is trying to access the server.

The software bars any attackers who do not have the second half of the authentication login from accessing your data. However, it’s still possible for them to defeat it. So what’s the use? Implementing two-factor authentication in different layers of the network and requiring different second-factor authentication can identify the attacker, along with the credentials the attacker used to access the network originally.

ICAM software and three-factor authentication

Identity, credential, and access management (ICAM) software is an important component of ferreting out unauthorized access of data, be it from an outside attacker or a rogue employee. The key is making sure each layer of the network security onion has different credential requirements. This includes:

  • Something the person knows such as a password.
  • Something the person has such as a physical token or an authenticated smartphone that permits access to specific data.
  • Biometrics such as a fingerprint reader or retina scanner.

Two-factor authentication uses two of these components; three-factor authentication uses all of them.

Don’t wait until it’s too late

The top five vulnerability categories — according to the Hewlett-Packard Cyber Risk Report (April 2015) — that companies experience across applications are:

  1. Web server misconfiguration.
  2. Cookie security.
  3. System information leak (such as a filename found in a comment).
  4. Privacy violations (such as autocomplete features that include a login name and password).
  5. Cross-frame scripting.

Don’t wait, hoping your network security is robust enough. Taking the aforementioned steps before an attack might save your company significant loss, and turn a potential catastrophe into a minor breach with minimal impact. What’s been your experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

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Stephen Lawton
Stephen Lawton is an award-winning journalist who has covered the IT industry for more than 30 years. Based in the foothills of the Cascades outside Seattle, Stephen currently is a contributor to SC Magazine, Tom’s IT Pro and Tom’s Hardware and is the former chief editor of MicroTimes, SunWorld Online and Digital News & Review. Stephen also is the founder and CEO of AFAB Media Services, a marketing and content development consultancy that specializes in information security, data storage, cloud, mobile and big data. Connect with Stephen on LinkedIn.