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What Is Network Security?
A Look at the Way Modern Businesses Protect Their Systems from Threats
Network security. It’s the subject on everyone’s lips in the c-suite these days, and it’s hardly surprising. With ransomware attacks shutting down everything from electrical grids to major corporations, anxiety about the safety of the networks we work on is high. Fortunately, for every advance hackers make, white hat developers are not far behind, creating networks and protocols that are safer than they were before. In the non-stop battle over cyber safety, what is network security? And how is it staying up to date? Let’s dig into those answers.
Defining Network Security
“Network security” is one of those umbrella terms that covers the technologies, devices and processes that keep your computer systems safe. And that “system” can include everything from the lines your internet travels on, to the computers and mobile devices you use, to the software that powers your work, to the servers and cloud farms that store your information. Why is the term so broad? Because every device and program that travels over your corporate network has the potential to affect its safety and operation.
Put simply, network security is the technology used to keep the online environment you work on safe from data loss and hacking. If you ask any IT person, “what is network security?” they will tell you it’s job #1 for them.
The Three Main Areas That Network Security Controls
To keep the discussion of “what is network security?” from getting too confusing, it’s best to remember that the answer generally falls into one of three different controls: physical, technical and administrative. Here’s how these control areas break down:
- Physical Network Security—which protects your routers, lines, cabling cupboards and server spaces from harm, whether it be from cut lines or other attempts to gain physical access. This is usually achieved through controlled access to lines, cabling and server rooms, through locks, biometric authentication, and more.
- Technical Network Security—which protects the data that travels over your system from threats like internal sabotage, unauthorized log ins, and hacking/phishing.
- Administrative Network Security—which covers user authentication, levels of access, and protection of the system against employee theft or unauthorized access.
Nearly any organization will have some kind of security in each of these areas. The question is, is it enough? Let’s take a look at the major types of network security, and how companies are utilizing it.
Types of Network Security
There are dozens of products and protocols that companies can use to better control risk over their networks. But in general, they fall into very specific types. Here’s the most common:
Network Access Control (NAC)
This is perhaps the most strategic of all the network security types, because it requires a company to think about what levels of access to grant to which employees, users, and third party vendors. And that’s important, because the more people have access to data, files and platforms, the greater the likelihood of security breaches. NAC, then, acts as a way of creating bumpers around the data in your system, ensuring that only the people who truly need the data have access to it.
This type of software rests in the background of all your systems, looking for bad links and malicious software that shouldn’t be there. Specifically, it scans information and emails coming into your network, and also files/data as it moves through the network. When it finds malicious code like phishing links, worms, ransomware and trojan software hacks, it identifies and sequesters it. Most companies will have more than one type of this kind of software, and they’re getting more sophisticated and powerful all the time. When people ask “what is network security?” this is usually the type of service they think of. But it’s only a fraction of what you’ll need to stay safe.
While it’s not an actual physical wall, a network firewall acts very much like a real firewall you might find in your building—it keeps threats from spreading. Firewalls act as programming barriers between external networks, and your internal network. They block unauthorized users and unauthorized traffic in your system. They are critical to the proper running of any network. Without them, everyone and anyone can get access to your network data.
Virtual Private Networks (VPN)
A virtual private network is a step above a firewall or network access control scenario, because it creates a secure network channel between one point and another. A good example of this is when an employee works remotely. A virtual private network creates a secure connection between the company’s main network, and an employee working offsite, with the data flowing between the two encrypted in transit. Security keys on each end create the permissions and access that allow the user to work seamlessly. This is the technology used in many remote work technologies that have become commonplace now.
When you sit down with your IT department or a managed service provider, you’ll need to discuss the many products and options you have for network security. But make no mistake—you’ll need all these types of network security. They are the pillars that will hold up any security strategy for your company. You won’t want to be asking them “what is network security?” You should already be thinking about it should be implemented. Fortunately, we have all the information you need to do your homework on the issue.
What Is Network Security? These Resources Have All the Answers
If you need some deep background for your next security strategy, Iconic IT has a wealth of free resources to offer. Check out our recent blog “Do You Have the Right Network Management Tools?” and our latest tips for keeping your network protected. Don’t forget, if you’re looking for IT monitoring in any of our service areas, we have affordable scalable services for you.
And if you’d like to learn the biggest mistakes companies make in their network security strategy, and what you can do about it, check out our latest video from Sitima Fowler, one of our founding partners at Iconic IT. This short video will cover “How to Keep Your Company Safe from Cybercrime without Busting Your Budget.” Give it a listen!