Setting Up Your Network Security? Avoid These 4 Mistakes

There will be no stories about a trip to Italy to scroll through or a memory about somebody’s grandma before getting to the ingredients of this recipe. The four most common mistakes that businesses make when setting up their network security are as follows:

  1. Weak passwords
  2. Outdated software
  3. Poor training
  4. Unrestricted network access

Businesses are prime targets for cyberattacks, and considering that the average data breach costs $4.45 million, it’s critical to be prepared. That means knowing about common security setup errors and how to avoid them with a few simple actions to protect your business from a variety of cyberattacks.

The 3 Forms of Network Security

There are three types of network security that are essential to consider for your business.

  • Physical Security: This is about keeping the physical parts of a network safe. It involves systems to control who can access areas, cameras, and barriers to protect computers and other equipment from being used without permission, damaged, or stolen.
  • Technical Security: This type of security protects a network’s information and data flow. It uses firewalls, antivirus programs, intrusion detection tools, and encryption methods to prevent unauthorized access, cyberattacks, and other online threats.
  • Administrative Security: This refers to the rules, processes, and actions that control how people use the network and behave. It covers managing who can access what, training people on digital security, and checking how secure the network is.

The 4 Most Costly Mistakes With Network Security (and How to Avoid Them)

1. Weak Passwords

Simple and/or reused passwords are one of the biggest security risks, accounting for over 80% of data breaches. Many people underestimate how easy it is for hackers to crack weak passwords. In fact, the most frequently used passwords can be cracked in less than one second. 

Luckily, weak passwords can be eradicated by taking a number of steps: 

  • Create and enforce strong password policies for your organization.
  • Educate employees about the risks of simple passwords and how to create stronger ones. Passwords should be complex enough to combine letters, numbers, and symbols—and they should also be changed regularly.
  • Update your business software to set requirements for password difficulty.
  • Use multi-factor authentication (MFA). It requires two or more verification factors to access an account, such as a password and a code sent to the user’s email or phone.

2. Outdated Software

Software update notifications can come at inconvenient times, so it’s very common for people to put them off to avoid disrupting their work. Unfortunately, this can be a critical mistake. An estimated 60% of breaches involve vulnerabilities that could have been corrected with a patch from an available software update. 

To address this problem, remember the following:

  • Establish a policy for regular software updates and patches.
  • Automate the update process wherever possible to ensure consistency and reduce the risk of human error or neglect.
  • Regularly audit your systems to ensure all software is up-to-date. 

3. Poor Training

Over 80% of cybersecurity incidents involve an element of human error. For instance, clicking on phishing emails, sharing confidential data over unsecured channels, or downloading unsafe attachments are just a few of the ways employees can accidentally compromise your network security. 

This can put your business at serious risk, so it’s essential that you train employees on digital security. 

Here’s how to mitigate the risk:

  • Teach employees how to recognize and avoid common threats like phishing emails and unsecured networks. 
  • Conduct cybersecurity training for all staff. Remember, this isn’t a one-and-done deal. Regular training keeps the risks top of mind so workers are more likely to adhere to policies. 
  • Ensure employees know who to contact if they’ve clicked a malicious link or downloaded an unsafe attachment. The sooner your IT team knows about an issue, the better. 

4. Unrestricted Network Access

A common and serious digital security error is allowing unrestricted access to your network. An open network is like leaving the door to your home unlocked—if access isn’t restricted, it could lead to data being exposed or stolen. 

This often happens when access rules are too loose, for example, by giving a sales representative unnecessary access to your company’s financial information. The more you limit access to sensitive data, the more secure it will be.

To improve security:

  • Use role-based access controls to ensure employees only have the access they need for their jobs.
  • Update permissions when employees change roles or leave the company.
  • Do periodic audits to ensure that access rights are appropriately managed.

How to Secure Your Network (from the Beginning)

Managing your network security can seem daunting, but it’s essential for protecting your company’s digital assets right from the start. Be sure to take practical steps by setting up firewalls, installing antivirus software, and implementing multi-factor authentication. 

Set Up Firewalls 

Think of a firewall as a security guard for your computer network. It checks all the data coming in and going out, ensuring nothing harmful gets through. Without a firewall, your network is left wide open to all kinds of cyber threats, which can lead to your data being stolen.

You’ll need two types of firewalls: 

  • Hardware Firewalls: These are physical devices that sit between your network and your connection to the internet. They’re great for protecting an entire network. You can purchase them from computer hardware retailers or online stores like Amazon, Best Buy, or Newegg.
  • Software Firewalls: These are installed on individual devices. Many operating systems come with built-in software firewalls (like Windows Firewall), but you can also buy more advanced ones from software companies or download free versions from providers such as Norton or McAfee.

Install Antivirus and Anti-Malware Software 

Next, put antivirus and anti-malware software on all workplace devices. This is your main defense against nasty things like viruses and ransomware. 

Pick a good antivirus program and make sure it updates on its own to stay ahead of new threats. Also, regularly scan your devices to catch and remove any bad software.

Malwarebytes is a reputable provider of free anti-malware software, and Norton is known for its antivirus software. 

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) 

If anyone on your team works remotely, having a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is essential for maintaining security and privacy. A VPN creates a secure and encrypted connection over the internet, which is especially important when using public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks. 

This encrypted tunnel ensures that the data you send and receive is shielded from prying eyes, making it difficult for cybercriminals to steal it.

To find the best VPN provider for you, keep an eye out for the following key features:

  • Strong Encryption: Look for a VPN that uses 256-bit encryption, which is the same type used by banks and the U.S. military. 
  • No-Log Policy: Choose a VPN provider that prioritizes data privacy by not keeping records of your internet activity.
  • Reliable Performance: Look for a VPN with high-speed servers and unlimited bandwidth to ensure your internet connection won’t be slowed down.

Use Encryption 

When your data is encrypted, it’s scrambled into a code that can’t be read by anyone who doesn’t have the key to decode it. It’s important for your business to encrypt its sensitive data both in transit (when it’s being shared) and at rest (when it’s being stored).

Here’s how to apply encryption to different types of data:

  • Email Encryption: Use an email service that offers end-to-end encryption, such as Proton Mail or Zoho Mail. This means only you and the recipient can read what’s in the emails.
  • Encrypting Files: Use file encryption tools like AxCrypt to encrypt files or folders with sensitive data. If you use cloud storage, your provider likely encrypts your data automatically.
  • Encrypting Network Data: For data shared over your network, use a VPN. As previously mentioned, a VPN encrypts the data as it travels across the internet, keeping it safe from interception.
  • Website Encryption: Install an SSL certificate on your website. This secures the connection between your site and its visitors and encrypts your website data.

Set Up Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) 

Multi-factor authentication is like a double-check for security. Along with a password, this form of authentication asks for something else before granting account access, such as a code from an alternative contact method or a fingerprint. 

Put MFA measures in place at your business—especially for getting into your most critical systems—and you’ll cut down the risk of someone sneaking in.

Ongoing Network Security Best Practices

Securing your system is just the first step in protecting your business from cybersecurity threats. You’ll also need to have several ongoing practices to maintain your network’s security. 

  • Network Monitoring: Analyze your network traffic on a regular basis to detect unusual activity or potential threats. 
  • Software and Firmware Updates: Consistently update all software and firmware to the latest versions to patch vulnerabilities and enhance security features.
  • Equipment Updates: Regularly review and upgrade network equipment like routers, switches, and firewalls to ensure they meet current security standards.
  • Continuous Employee Training: Provide employees with ongoing training regarding new security threats and best practices, reinforcing the importance of cybersecurity.
  • Regular Security Audits: Conduct routine network scans for vulnerabilities and potential malware infections to find and fix security gaps.
  • Limited Network Access: Regularly review user access controls to ensure only authorized personnel have access to sensitive data and systems.

Network Security Complexities from the Rise of Remote Work

Remote work presents additional security considerations.

  • More Security Risks with Personal Devices: Remote employees often use personal devices for work that aren’t as secure as office equipment. To reduce this risk, create BYOD policies that require personal devices to stay updated with antivirus software and security patches. 
  • Challenges in Secure Data Transmission: Home networks are often less secure than office networks, so sending data securely can be a challenge for remote workers. A policy that makes VPNs mandatory for remote workers will keep network data safe and encrypted. 
  • Remote Work Setup Risks: Every remote work setup is different, which can make keeping things secure a challenge. Give employees clear rules for working safely from home, like how to use Wi-Fi securely, how to keep paper documents safe, and how to handle a security problem if it happens.