Why do we need to Protect our Network?
If you are wondering “why do I need to protect my network?” Rest assured you are not alone. Many people including professional security experts neglect to protect their own Internet, e-mail, and company records. You may argue “I’m not important, who wants to break into my network?” The simple answer is anybody who has a modem and a computer, and little hacking skills can potentially penetrate into your system. The “would be” attacker doesn’t really care about you, most likely he or she would launch attack from your PC or network on another network without your knowledge. Once a hacker gains control of your system then he can hide his presence on the computer and use it to launch attacks, often against well-known networks such as the Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks on CNN, Yahoo, E-bay, and Microsoft. Perhaps you only use your computer for gaming, or just to e-mail to friends, family, and occasional chat, you may still be a target to a random attack.
How Hard is it to Break Into My Network?
With the proliferation of downloadable hacking tools from various Internet sites the answer is going to be ‘a nine-year-old can do it on the fly’. Most users do not pay attention to the daily announcement by software developers, security bulletins, or CERTs’ that urge users to take immediate steps to plug holes in our system. Those fixes which are posted on the Internet and commonly referred to as patches are necessary for the system to stay secure and safe to use while browsing the Internet. However, most of users do not get the patches installed, or fail to act upon the recommendations. In addition, most of computers are set for ‘default settings’ in most of the applications to allow an easier access to your computer and the Internet. The default settings may be easier settings for some, but it creates an opportunity for a would be hacker to gain an easier access to your computer.
How Can I Protect my Network?
It may sound obvious to you but, any virus program can eliminate many of the most common threats from “malware” before it has a chance to attack your network or your PC. Antivirus from a commercial vendors such as Symantec, Network Associates, and Trend Microsystems offers good protection from viruses, worms, and the likes. Antivirus programs will scan your e-mail (outgoing and incoming), scan attachments, program files, and other vulnerabilities. The most important things to remember is that you need to keep the definition files updated (at minimum once a week) and scan the computer for viruses daily. Or at least once a week. Your defense from viruses is as good as the latest virus definition you own.
Deploy a Firewall
Think of the Internet as a huge pipe, that is collecting data, protocols, and packets from millions of individual sources worldwide. Unfiltered packets that are added to this pipe increase the risks of malevolent traffic on the Internet. Trojan and Viruses (like Nimda and Code Red) are constant reminders to the potential damage to any network that does not use protection against unwanted data . Lets face it, the new reality of the Internet is such that if you use an unsafe browsing, or open your network to unfiltered traffic, you will face a malicious attack – it’s just matter of time.
A Firewall is a device that sits between you and your network. It is used to create a security parameter based upon programmed security rules. The firewall acts as a gatekeeper for the packets, while allowing important data to be filtered in and out of your network. In an ideal world, one would have the firewall installed as a hardware device (as oppose to a software type) which scans each of the packets that enter your computer via the network interface. The firewall permits only the “good” packets to access your network, while dropping all the unwanted packets that are attempting to gain access to the network. There are Software and Hardware Firewalls solutions available to use for networks.
We recommend a standalone firewall (bastion) or a router integrated firewall that protects the access to the network. Some of the best firewalls made by companies like Cisco, Check Point, and Nokia. In addition we recommend home users, the Zone Labs Pro (the one you buy) which seems to perform well.
Apply the Most Current Software Patches
Software companies seems to go out of their way to produce new applications at ‘breaking neck’ speed without properly checking for bugs or securities flaws. As results we have seen daily security and software patches posted on the Internet by the companies. One must take an advantage of the offering by the software vendors as they became available. The purpose of applying the patches is to protect a compromised system from vulnerabilities that come with the software and can cause some security and other flaws in your network. Some software vendors offer automatic software updates, use it if you don’t want the extra work.
Don’t Use Software from Unknown Origin
Here is another way malware (malicious software) can get into your computer. Don’t use unknown or unproved software, unless you are certain that it’s safe to use. Scan it first with updated Antivirus software. If you are concerned (and you should be) test the software on a non-production machine (not connected to the network) and watch and see what happens.
Don’t Accept Email Attachments, unless you know its Origin
This is another method where malware can enter your network. As a rule never open attachments. Unless you confirm the contents. Then, scan with an antivirus, and then read the email header (in MS-Outlook click, View, options) to view exactly what is the attachment file is all about. If the file is SCR, PIF, or EXE – do not open it! Any other attachments, save to a disk, then scans for viruses, and then you can open it.
Backup your Data
No matter how experienced user you are, computers can breakdown and your hardware can be damaged or stolen. That’s why you need to backup all the data that you can not affords to lose or to reconstruct. Normally, you don’t need to backup your operating system and the application software. Yet, your data files are time consuming and if you don’t want to spend time on mundane tasks, back it up now. It might be a bit expensive, because modern systems come with a large hardrive. Invest in a tape drive, or perhaps another hardrive for backup purposes.
Stay Current with Security News
You don’t have to be a network administrator to keep up with computer security. Subscribe to a security newsletter available online; such as SANS, or CERT which offers an invaluable information:
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MK Computer Consulting
M. Kotlov, Consultant