Network Security 101 For The Small Business

By a show of hands, how many of you are running a home office? Let’s broaden that search; how many of our loyal readers work in a small office environment? Companies of such a size usually will not have an IT support team, unless of course, it is an IT support company. Now the beauty of these small environments has to be the ease of manageability. It takes almost no knowledge to set up a small network of 3 or 4 PC’s. The bonus is if you have a brother, sister, next door neighbour, friend… actually anyone who’s inner-geek can be exploited to sort you out. You don’t well here are 4 major things to keep in mind, for yourself.

Routers

The term router may sound intimidating, but in reality routers are fairly easy and simple to deal with, particularly for a small business.  The biggest thing that a router will do is abstract, or separate, your internal network from the rest of the internet.  This helps to keep attackers from getting to the computers that are on your internal network as the routers you would use for a small business also act as firewalls.  There are a lot of different routers available including offerings from Linksys (owned by Cisco), D-Link, and NetGear and if you are ‘really’ lucky. I quite like Linksys and D-Link.

Routers come in a lot of different configurations, but the easiest situation is if you can buy a router with enough hardwired ports (Ethernet ports) to cover all of the computers on your internal network.  You connect all of your computers to the router, replacing the hub that your computers were connected to previously.  Then, you connect the router to your internet connection (cable modem and DSL are the most common these days), and follow the instructions for your particular hardware.  It is likely that you could have the router installed and working in a half hour or less, particularly if you have any alternate personality that just so happens to be a techie. If you want to simplify the hardware front even more, opt for a Router/Modem combo. ISP’s will often give a Router/Modem combo as part of your data package. As imagined, this would be a single device doing the job of 2. Space saving.

Wireless

Wireless security is one of the most common areas of security issues in small businesses.  It is so easy to get a wireless access point up and running that many businesses have them and don’t even know it.  There are lots of workers who will just bring an access point in to work in order to give them the ability to use their laptops throughout the office.  The unfortunate part is that there are a lot of security issues to consider before deploying wireless in your network.

The a few things you want to make sure and do with your wireless access point.  The first is to make sure that the access point is not broadcasting its SSID, the name the access point advertises for people to connect.  Change the SSID to something other than the default (Linksys on their access points) and turn off SSID broadcasting.  This will force any would be attackers to guess what the SSID is when they try to connect.  Also, make sure to enable some form of encryption while realizing that WPA security is nearly trivial to break.  The manual for your access point should be able to lead you through those procedures.

Keep in mind as well that a router may even come with wireless functionality. This is again a huge cost saver for a small business.

Anti-virus

The single biggest threat to your small business network is viruses.  All of your computers should have some kind of anti-virus software installed.  I personally prefer AVG Free. I have been satisfied with it in many situations. Where clients want to spend the money on anti-virus software; McAfee, Norton or Avast Professional are options. My only gripe with Norton and McAfee is that the on-access scanning service seems to literally devour system resources. However, the key is to have something in place to protect your computers from virus infections.

Malware & Spyware

Another major threat is malware, a generic term for software that does something to your computer that is malicious in some way (Malicious Software – Malware. No-Brainer!).  Spyware is software that collects and sends personal information to a third party.  It could collect web history information that is used to target advertisements or it could be key logger software that reports all of your keystrokes to send to someone, which can be particularly dangerous as this is an easy way to get a password or account number.  Adware is software that delivers advertisements to your computer, especially with pop-ups.

Whatever the threat it is important to have something in place to combat the problem.  There are two products that I like for combating malware, and they are Spybot and Ad-Aware. The new AVG has some sort of spyware scanning built in as well, I personally run AVG as a standalone at the moment as a ‘live test’. Grisoft don’t fail me now! I will keep you informed if AVG 8 lets me down, though I doubt that will be happening anytime soon.

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