Tips to Secure Your Small Business Network

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Just because your business is small, doesn't mean that hackers won't target you. The reality is that automated scanning techniques and botnets don't care whether your company is big or small, they're only looking for holes in your network security to exploit.

Maintaining a secure small business or home network isn't easy, and even for an old hand in IT, it still takes time and energy to keep things locked down. Here are 10 of the most critical steps you can take to keep your data from ending up elsewhere, and none of them take much time or effort to accomplish.

A properly configured firewall acts as the first line of defense on any network. The network firewall sets the rules for which ports should be open and which ones should be closed. The only ports that should be open are ports for services that you need to run.

Typically, most small business routers include some kind of firewall functionality, so chances are if you have a router sitting behind your service provider or DSL/cable modem, you likely have a firewall already. To check to see if you already have firewall capabilities at the router level in your network, log into your router and see if there are any settings for Firewall or Security. If you don't know how to log into your router on a Windows PC, find your Network Connection information. The item identified as Default Gateway is likely the IP address for your router.

There are many desktop firewall applications available today as well, but don't mistake those for a substitute for firewall that sits at the primary entry point to your small business network. You should have a firewall sitting right behind where your network connectivity comes into your business to filter out bad traffic before it can reach any desktop or any other network assets.

It's a trivial matter in many cases for an attacker to identify the brand and model number of a device on a network. It's equally trivial to simply use Google to obtain the user manual to find the default username and password.

Take the time to make this easy fix. Log into your router/firewall, and you'll get the option to set a password; typically, you'll find it under the Administration menu item.

Some router vendors have a simple dialogue box that lets you check for new firmware versions from within the router's administration menu. For routers that don't have automated firmware version checking, find the version number in your router admin screen, and then go to the vendor's support site to see if you have the latest version.

The benefit of assigning an IP is that when you check your router logs, you'll know which IP is associated with a specific PC and/or user. With DHCP, the same PC could potentially have different IPs over a period of time as machines are turned on or off. By knowing what's on your network, you'll know where problems are coming from when they do arise.

Another option is to leverage open source technologies running on your own servers (or as virtual instances if you are virtualized). On the IPS side, one of the leading open source technologies is called SNORT (which is backed by commercial vendor Sourcefire.