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Managing your network probably isn’t your favorite part of being a business owner. Unfortunately, it’s most likely at the top of the list of things that keep you up at night. In fact, according to the 2018 Small Business Risk Report conducted by Forbes Insights, 94% of businesses face cybersecurity risks.

So while there is definitely a reason to be concerned, you can alleviate some of the risks by working with the right partner and following a few simple strategies.

94% of businesses face cyber security risks.” Forbes Insights

Provide training

Your employees are your first line of defense against threats. Having everyone trained and involved is vital to keeping your network safe and secure. You can begin by scheduling a company-wide meeting to specifically discuss security and compliance.

Rather than a formal training session, start with a dialog approach that allows everyone to share stories and ask questions. This will enable you to get an understanding of how well-informed your employees are about your current solution and determine how much training will be needed. Then it will be easier to start the project with a clear idea of what to cover first.

Run simple courses

Employee training will make your staff more effective at their jobs (even the little things help a lot!). Training on creating strong passwords, using two-factor authentication, how to recognize phishing scams and routinely run software updates on their computers will help everyone get up to speed quickly. This is an easy way to greatly reduce the probability of cyber attacks due to employee negligence.

Provide transparency and open communication

Employees need to feel comfortable and safe, even if they’ve inadvertently put your network at risk. It’s important that they come to you when something happens so you can deal with it quickly. That way you can execute your data recovery plan as quickly as possible and protect your business reputation.

Provide tools that enable self-monitoring

Enable your employees to have some control over the safety of their company. By giving them the tools they need and the responsibility to use them, they’ll be more invested in helping you maintain your network security, saving your IT staff time and energy.

Test regularly

Taking an inventory of your network for vulnerabilities can help you nip a potential problem in the bud—or prevent it altogether. By testing for weaknesses when you’re not in the midst of a crisis, you can save money and hours of downtime.

Although testing may seem time-consuming and disruptive, setting a regular schedule should make it a lot more manageable. Determining what can be tested simultaneously, picking low traffic times and staggering systems should make this process less tedious and more efficient.

So rather than blocking off an entire day or days to do it all at once, you can devote a minimum of time over the course of a few days and get the same effect. Of course, consulting with experts is always a good idea, and they can tell you which course of action will work best for your organization.

VPN Monitoring tools

Although a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides encryption to protect your data, testing for leaks weekly will help to discover any problems that could potentially harm your network.

Run a services audit on servers

Over time your servers will be running more services than you need. Clearing these out on a monthly basis will make your network less vulnerable as well as improve their overall performance. Make sure that if you use a hybrid cloud solution that any third party does the same with their servers.

“The key to an effective cybersecurity strategy is regular penetration testing and continuous intrusion detection efforts.”

Update frequently

When a vulnerability is discovered, companies will issue patches to counteract it. If you’re not keeping everything up-to-date, you could miss out on major bug fixes and face potential risks.

While keeping everything updated has its challenges, software updates can be made with relative ease.

Important things to remember:

Update your OS and software

Updating software doesn’t usually take a lot of time. Some even give you the option to update automatically when it becomes available. You should keep an eye out for any significant changes but most updates mainly consist of minor patches or incremental improvements.

Update your router

Firmware tends to be out of date after only one year so you might have to update the router manually. This will ensure you have the most recent bug fixes and any security updates. If all else fails, you can always just replace your existing router for a new one.

When it comes to your servers and hardware, things can get a little more complicated. That’s not to say that’s it’s difficult. It just might take more time and energy to ensure you have everything you need to keep your network running smoothly.

Update servers

The good news is that typically your servers are less vulnerable to attack. The bad news is that if a cyber attack does occur, it can infect all your other systems. Updating your servers is crucial but it usually requires downtime so plan accordingly.

Update hardware as often as needed

How often you update your hardware is up to you. However, there are risks associated with keeping outdated technology around for too long. Frequent breakdowns and loss of data could hinder employees’ ability to work at peak efficiency. Running an annual assessment at the very least should help you make a determination when to pull the plug, make upgrades or invest in new equipment.

“Most breaches we become aware of are caused by failure to update software components that are known to be vulnerable for months or even years,” René Gielen, Vice President of Apache Struts

Be proactive

Taking steps to ensure that you have protocols in place to prevent attacks before they happen is probably the best way to save yourself some headaches in the future. Although you might be hesitant to spend the money upfront to beef up your security, it will save you money in the long run.

Invest in an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) or Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)

An IDS will notify you of botnets, malware, worms, Trojans and can test for vulnerabilities. An IPS do the same thing but can also be set up to take actions like blocking traffic when a threat is detected.

Fortify your firewall with a Web Application Firewall (WAF)

A WAF will protect against remote file intrusion, cross-site scripting and forgery and other threats that could put your customers’ information at risk.

Install antivirus/antimalware

Make sure your servers and computers all have the same software installed (maybe make a central backup on a central server). This will help to avoid conflicts that could lead to gaps in your protection.

“Many businesses remain too defensively-focused in the way they address cyberthreats.”

Final thoughts on network maintenance

There are always going to be threats to your network. However, taking a proactive approach and putting a plan in place can help to significantly reduce your risk. If you find that you’re having difficulty with any of these points, it might be time to switch around your internal organizational structure.

Once you’ve determined a plan of action, be sure to stick to it. Make a commitment to hold yourself and your team accountable to keep your network safe and secure.