How Network Security Works

Protecting company data, devices, network access control, and systems is critical for business operations. On average, businesses suffer more than 16 days of downtime after a ransomware attack. Even worse, costs of downtime and loss of network traffic range from thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars per day.

Network security uses a combination of technology and policies to prevent attacks and reduce downtime. The goal of network security is to maintain network functionality for authorized users while preventing intrusion, data destruction, and data theft.

Various types of network security work in layers by:

  • Creating a barrier between the trusted internal network and external networks like the internet
  • Authenticating users so only authorized people can access the network
  • Alerting administrators to intrusion attempts
  • Preventing viruses and malware from infecting the network

In addition to preventing downtime, these types of network security protect sensitive information, keep businesses in compliance with regulations, and much more. Our guide to Why Cybersecurity is Important covers all the reasons network security should be a priority.

What is Network Security?

Network security is a combination of technology, people, and policies. These work together to protect network connected devices, IT infrastructure, and data that flows through the network. It protects the network from both internal and external attacks.

Network Security vs. Cybersecurity

Network security is a subset of cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is the broader protection of a company’s entire digital system. It includes protecting the network, but also includes protecting against social engineering, educating employees on security best practices, and ensuring technology remains safe to support continued operations.

Network security is the more specific protection of network connected devices and the data flowing between them. Network security is typically more concerned with protecting IT infrastructure with purpose-built hardware and software solutions. It protects against technical cyberattacks like:

  • Viruses and worm
  • Denial of service (DoS) attacks
  • Trojan Horses
  • Zero-day exploits

Network security is a part of cybersecurity, so the two are closely related. This can make them hard to distinguish from each other. Let’s look at a common example. Two malicious emails are sent to your company. One is a phishing email attempting to trick employees into giving up confidential information. The other is an email with a malicious attachment that will install malware on the victim’s computer.

Phishing

Cybersecurity protects against the phishing email by training employees to recognize and avoid phishing attempts. Trained employees will not respond with sensitive information. 

Network security protects against the malicious email attachment. The network firewall could prevent the email from ever making it to an inbox. If the email makes it past the firewall, content filtering could remove the attachment. If an employee does get the email and attempts to install it, antivirus software could prevent installation or remove the harmful program before it has a chance to do much damage.

There are many components of network security that work together to keep the network, and company, safe.

Elements of Network Security Work

Network security requires technology, policies, and people to all work together. These network security defined elements need to be configured to all work together to make the network security measures functional for authorized users while keeping bad actors out. 

Firewalls

Firewalls are network security devices that monitor incoming and outgoing network traffic. They are configured to allow safe data packets to pass through while blocking unsafe data packets. 

Think of your network as a castle. Your firewall is like the guards at the gate. They check everyone coming in and going out. Your firewall guards open the drawbridge for safe, trusted people, and close it when dangerous ones try to get in.

Next Generation Firewalls

Next Generation Firewalls (link to Next Generation Firewalls) include the same functionality as traditional network security firewalls plus additional features like Intrusion Prevention Systems of unauthorized users, content filtering, and real time updates. 

In the castle example, next generation firewalls would be guards at the gate who would receive updates from other castles about dangerous people to look out for. They’d also be able to remove unwanted people more forcefully.

Intrusion Prevention Systems

Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) (Link to: Intrusion Prevention Systems) are either hardware or software solutions that detect intrusion attempts to your physical network security, automatically remove them from the network, and alert IT administrators to the attempt and response. These multiple layers make up a robust network security system.

The IPS is either part of a next generation firewall or a standalone solution. Either way, it’s a necessary component of network security because it is updated to protect against new security threats in real time, and it responds to intrusion attempts instantly. This removes the potentially dangerous delay that is inevitable when a network security threat requires human intervention.

With the volume and frequency that hackers create new attacks and discover vulnerabilities, it is critical your network is protected by a system that can adapt.

Content Filtering

Content filtering protects your company in two ways. First, it protects your network from malicious websites and email attachments. Second, it protects the company from the liability of employees accessing inappropriate content on the company network.

Content filtering with targeted access control can also be either a part of a next generation firewall or can be a standalone solution. Content filters are self-explanatory. They analyze keywords, phrases, and other data strings of all content accessed on the network. They filter out dangerous content and any content that violates company policies.

Web content filtering (link to Web Content Filtering) and email content filtering are the two most common forms of content filtering.

VPN or Virtual Private Network

Virtual Private Networks allow remote employees to safely connect to the company network. A virtual private network encrypts valuable data; this is especially important for employees who are working from home. 

Physical networking infrastructure is traditionally housed in the company’s building. Employees who work in that building can connect to the network without a VPN. However, offsite employees still need access to the same applications and data housed on the network. VPNs create a secure tunnel to the company network that employees can access using their own internet connections.

Site-to-site VPN

Site-to-site virtual private networks can also be used to connect branch offices. Say your company has three offices. Your headquarters in Building A houses the physical networking infrastructure. Offices B and C don’t have any physical network infrastructure but can connect to the company network in Building A using a VPN.

Cloud Security

Many businesses are moving from physical network infrastructure to cloud services, which are more accessible on mobile devices. Security is still important even if the network hardware is owned by a third party and hosted offsite, as unwanted parties are increasingly targeting mobile devices. 

A traditional network security system focused on building a perimeter around the network. With the cloud, there is no perimeter because it is accessible on any device. Keeping data secure is the new focus. This requires more secure authentication, encryption, endpoint security, and data segmentation.

The Cloud

Moving fully to the cloud also means the business is reliant on another company to keep the physical network devices safe and operational. The leading cloud providers promise the highest levels of uptime and security.  

The cloud isn’t necessarily insecure by default, but it requires a different way of thinking and different questions to ask the cloud providers.

Network Access Control Security Professionals

The people behind network security are often the most overlooked element. These professionals design, install and maintain network security infrastructure. Without them, network security becomes outdated, and infrastructure starts to fail.

It takes a high degree of technical knowledge and certification to keep a network properly secured. Businesses have a few options for how to obtain these essential personnel. They could staff and train an internal IT department. This is a good option for businesses with a lot of resources. A full team is usually necessary to cover all IT functions and avoid skill gaps. This keeps the talent in-house, but is the most expensive option.

Managed IT Provider

Businesses could also hire a managed IT provider like LeeShanok. Managed service providers (MSPs) supply the fully trained teams and partner with you to keep your network secure. This is generally the most affordable option, and a good choice if you prefer not to have internal IT staff. 

The third option is often the best: partnering internal IT staff with an MSP. A good MSP works as a team with internal IT staff. They compliment each other’s skills to fully protect your network. The MSP can cover the gaps in the current IT department at a lower cost than hiring additional personnel.

How Secure is My Network Traffic?

Starting to think about your own company’s network security? LeeShanok’s Network Security Assessments (link to: network security assessment) are a great check-up to see how healthy your network is. We’ll give you a network security report card with actionable steps to better protect your company.

Request my Network Security Assessment

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