Today, hacks, data breaches, and cyberattacks are more common than ever before. In fact, the number of data breaches that exposed private records more than doubled between 2015 and 2017 alone. The increasing number and severity of these attacks make network security a topic of utmost importance, especially for current and prospective certified IT professionals.
CompTIA has done extensive research on cybersecurity, and one recent study on building security teams, shows that the primary driver for a new security approach is a change in IT operations. Migrating to a cloud provider, adding new mobile devices or focusing on data analytics are all common IT strategies that require new security tactics. It’s no coincidence that these strategies also drive changes or improvements to the corporate network. Success in these areas requires a solid understanding of best practices in network security.
Network security is a smaller subset that falls under the larger umbrella of cybersecurity, and it refers to the practice of preventing unauthorized users from accessing computer networks and their associated devices. It involves physically protecting network servers and devices from external threats, as well as taking steps to secure the digital network. In an age of increasingly sophisticated and frequent cyberattacks, network security matters more now than ever before.
Network security is vital to maintaining the integrity of your data and the privacy of your organization and employees. It encompasses everything from the most basic practices,
creating strong passwords and fully logging out of community computers, to the most complex, high-level processes that keep networks, devices and their users safe. More and more sensitive information
is stored online and in these various devices, and if an unauthorized user gains access to that data, it could lead to disastrous results.
Network security is the key to keeping that sensitive information safe, and as more private data is stored and shared on vulnerable devices, network security will only grow in importance and necessity. Experts expect that more than 2,314 exabytes (or over 2 trillion gigabytes) of data will exist by 2020; managing that amount of data is difficult enough, and protecting it will be another issue entirely.
While each and every member of your organization can take strides to help keep things secure, network security has become more complex in recent years. Adequately protecting networks and their connected devices requires comprehensive network training, a thorough understanding of how networks actually work and the skills to put that knowledge into practice. It’s crucial for networks to be thoroughly and properly set up, secured and monitored to fully preserve privacy.
In order to effectively implement and maintain secure networks, it’s important to understand the common vulnerabilities, threats and issues facing IT professionals today. While some can be fixed fairly easily, others require more involved solutions.
Virtually all computer networks have vulnerabilities that leave them open to outside attacks; further, devices and networks are still vulnerable even if no one is actively threatening or targeting them. A vulnerability is a condition of the network or
its hardware, not the result of external action.
These are some of the most common network vulnerabilities:
While a vulnerability does not guarantee that an attacker or hacker will target your network, it does make it much easier — and possible — for them to gain access to it.
You must also consider the physical security of the various devices, servers and systems that are used to power and maintain your network. If a network is physically vulnerable, it doesn’t matter how strong or extensive its security is, because
if someone can gain physical access to any of these items, the entire network could then be compromised.
Important physical safety considerations include the following:
Taking precautions to maintain the physical safety of your network will ensure that it’s able to run as smoothly and safely as possible.
Over the last several years, cyberattacks have become more sophisticated, extensive, frequent and more difficult to defend against. Many cybersecurity experts believe that these attacks will only continue to grow more complex and aggressive.
Some of the most prevalent types of network security attacks any IT professional should be aware of include the following:
Of course, these are only a few of the many ways that hackers may try to infiltrate network systems, and they will continue to develop new, creative ways to do so. Always pay attention to any unusual activity you happen to notice, and don’t hesitate to investigate the matter further.
Just as there are many ways to infiltrate a network, there are many different techniques and strategies that IT professionals can use to secure one. Some of the most common types of network security solutions include:
One security strategy won’t be enough to fully and effectively protect a network. A combination of different techniques will ensure that your network is as secure as possible and will help to meet the unique needs of your organization.
Regardless of your organization’s needs, there are a few general network protection tips and best practices that you should be sure to follow. Below is a very basic overview of some of the most important, but perhaps underestimated, steps IT professionals should take to ensure network security. A more in-depth guide of all relevant steps and information can be found in the CompTIA Network+ Certification study guide.
Always be aware of who has access to your network or servers. After all, not everyone in your organization needs to be able to physically or electronically access everything on your network. Don’t give blanket access to every employee in your organization; only give out what information is necessary to help reduce the chance of unauthorized access, purposeful or unintentional tampering, or security breaches.
It’s a basic principle, but following password best practices is a simple and highly effective way to maintain network security. Many people create passwords that aren’t strong, reuse previous passwords and don’t use unique passwords for each of their accounts. Encourage all employees to follow password best practices, especially for their work accounts, as it can help keep everyone’s data safe.
Physically protect your servers and your devices. Keep them in a safe location, and do not grant general access to this room or area. Be sure the room is locked when it’s not in use and keep an eye on the area when it is unsecured or in use.
You should never assume that your network is completely secure. Continually test and troubleshoot your network to see what is substandard or to identify any vulnerabilities. Be sure to make fixes and updates as needed.
In addition, if you do not already have a data recovery plan in place, now is the time to create one. Even the best-secured networks are compromised and infiltrated, and though no one wants or necessarily expects that to happen, being prepared for the worst will make solving the problem significantly easier.
Computer networking is constantly evolving, and what was once considered a network security best practice may soon be a thing of the past. IT professionals need continual education and training to keep up on the latest security issues and threats, so they can more effectively implement promising network security solutions.
In addition to command-line tools, there are also a number of standalone applications that can be used to determine the status of a network and to troubleshoot issues. Some of these applications may be included in the system that you are working with, while others may need to be installed separately.
Command-line tools and applications are software tools for troubleshooting, but some network problems have hardware causes and solutions.
Here are some hardware tools that can help you diagnose and solve network issues:
These are just a few of the steps you can follow and tools that you can use to troubleshoot an issue in your network. For home networks, many issues can be solved relatively simply, by checking connections, making sure that everything is plugged in and
using built-in diagnostic tools.
However, if you want a job working on computer networks, you’ll need to develop your troubleshooting skills to match. Network troubleshooting is an essential skill to have when looking for a job as a network engineer or network administrator, since
companies are primarily concerned with minimizing their network downtime.
If you’re looking for a job, an IT certification related to computer networking is essential as proof of your abilities. Keep in mind that certification exams
test your skills very closely, so make sure to seek out appropriate network training to properly prepare for your exam and test with confidence.
In order to really develop your skills that will land you the job, it’s important to combine training and certifications with real-world network troubleshooting experience. This experience doesn’t have to come from a job – you can
practice your IT skills by tinkering with your own equipment or volunteering with local nonprofits to improve their networks and resolve any issues they’re having.
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