Network and Data Security – Inside and Out

“Confessions of a Wi-Fi Thief” is a perfect example of what happens to a home network if left unsecured. Besides the annoyance of someone possibly using up your bandwidth, the fact that your personal files and electronic data is basically being ‘broadcast’ is a shocker. Grossman’s article reminds us that the chains we put around our networks are only as strong as their weakest links-often our end-user’s home offices.

Using a VPN and strong access control and authentication procedures are a must, but IT departments must also stress the importance of end-users securing their personal wireless networks. And, we should provide assistance, even if it’s just informational, if possible. Now don’t get all up in arms about supporting end-users home equipment. I’m not suggesting you taken on the often impossible task of manually configuring each user’s home networking equipment. Instead, I suggest an information campaign that helps users understand the importance of and common methods for securing their home networks.

Institute and enforce a solid remote access policy

Your information should start with a good remote access policy, which every remote user should received and sign (manually or electronically).

Provide information on general Wi-Fi security techniques

Whether you include them as part of your remote access policy, post them on your IT department’s Intranet site or send them out in an e-mail, the following Wi-Fi security tips are a good place for your users to start:

  • Use WPA or WPA2 wireless encryption-not WEP.
  • Don’t broadcast your SSID.
  • Use a firewall.
  • Use a strong passphrase.
  • Regularly monitor network access.

Consider special requirements for data protect by regulation (healthcare, educational, etc.)

If your organization handles data protected by specific governmental regulations such as the United States regulations; HIPPA, FERPA and GLBA, you may need to take a few extra precautions.

Compliance is nothing to fool around with, and it’s imperative that your organization understand its responsibilities for safeguarding protected data. Protected data is any information that someone could use to identify an individual. Information protected by legislation can include:

  • Salary and fringe benefits (except for federal employees)
  • Terms of employment (including performance and disciplinary records)
  • Academic and educational history
  • Criminal investigation and arrest history
  • Employment history (including general or security clearance information)
  • Biographical history
  • Social Security information
  • Identification codes
  • Personnel profile (including home address and phone number)
  • Medical history

Your organization’s network obviously contains and/or processes protected sensitive information. Unauthorized disclosure of such sensitive information could adversely impact your organization with both civil and criminal liabilities. To protect yourself and your company, it’s vital that you implement some extra precautions.

Admin Responsibilities

If you’re responsible for the security of your company’s network, then you’re also responsible for overseeing the day-to-day collection, storage, and use of personal data subject to such legislation. You must apply adequate data security safeguards to protect data from the following:

  • Inappropriate disclosure
  • Improper use
  • Access by unauthorized or unapproved users
  • Data tampering

Employee responsibilities

An organization’s users are potentially the weakest link in your security efforts. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: Educate your users.

To better protect sensitive data, train all users to do the following:

  • Label all media (e.g., disks and documents) containing sensitive information.
  • Securely store sensitive information.
  • Immediately notify supervisors of any security breach.
  • Don’t send unencrypted sensitive information via e-mail.
  • Log off or use a screen saver with a password when leaving workstations unattended.
  • Erase all data from hard disks before sending PCs off-site for maintenance.
  • Store data on network drives instead of workstations.
  • Be on the lookout for hardware keystroke loggers.
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