By Mike Herrington

Pres. Trump signed an executive order recently that called out the government’s poor cyber security measures and mandated one set of security standards across government agencies. The order also makes the heads of each organization responsible for security. The spotlight being turned on security has many business owners wondering what they can do to ensure their networks are safe and protected.

You don’t have to be a large government entity to get hacked. Just because your business network is small doesn’t mean that hackers won’t target you. The reality is that automated scanning techniques don’t care whether your network is large or small. They look for and exploit common security holes regardless of size. The government’s outdated technology stack just happens to have a lot of these vulnerabilities.

Here’s the good news. There are several simple steps that businesses can take to secure their networks. Here are four that you can use to help make your network more secure and reduce your risk. These are just the absolute basics. If you have sensitive data, industry-mandated compliance or are publicly traded, you should also investigate more advanced network security measures.

1. Get a firewall. The first point of attack for any hacker is to scan for open ports. Ports are the mechanisms by which your small-business network connects to the Internet. Open ports are vulnerabilities that hackers love to exploit. A firewall locks down all ports that you don’t need to have open for necessary business functions. Best practices dictate that open ports should be limited to as little a number as possible.

It’s important to note that while most routers will have some kind of firewall capability built into them, this is in no way a replacement for a business class firewall. There are great security advantages to having a device that can manage security on a more granular level and do things like intrusion prevention and unified threat management.

2. Password-protect your firewall. It’s never enough to simply drop a new firewall into your network and turn it on. A common mistake in configuring network equipment is keeping the default password.

Most hackers can easily identify the brand and model of a device on a network. Armed with this information, it is a simple thing for them to throw in the default password and gain access to network resources and information.

To prevent this from happening, it is important that you change the password on your firewall to a non-default, strong password that is more difficult to bypass. On most firewalls, this is as simple as logging into the device and setting the password. This is usually an option in the administration menu on the device.

3. Update firmware. Another common issue that small businesses face with security is outdated firmware on their firewall. Most network equipment needs to be updated on a regular basis, and if left untouched for more than a few months, can become a security risk. It’s critical to make sure that your firewall and network devices are updated regularly.

Some firewalls have a simple dialogue box that allows you to check for any new versions of firmware. If that is not the case with your equipment, note the version of the firmware you are running and then check it against the current recommended version in the support section on the manufacturer’s website.

4. Use VPN. One common security issue that businesses face is how to securely gain access to network resources from outside the primary business network without sacrificing security. It’s important to the productivity to many businesses to allow employees freedom to travel and conduct business. These same folks often need access to network resources while on the road. How can we help them connect back to the network without jeopardizing security? VPN is the answer.

A VPN or Virtual Private Network allows remote workers to access the network with an encrypted tunnel. They can simply access a web page via a web browser on any machine with an Internet connection, enter their credentials and click one button to securely access network resources from anywhere. This keeps your data secure and allows the needed access.

Cybersecurity has been an increasing problem around the world for years. The recent executive order from the president just turns the spotlight onto a known issue. Getting hacked costs businesses across the U.S. millions of dollars each year. Business owners should be aware of simple solutions that can help keep their data safe and consult security experts regularly. The cost of good security is far less than the cost of a potential breech.

Mike Herrington is the manager of business development at i.t.NOW.

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