The way modern businesses are run has changed as the technologies they rely on have become increasingly sophisticated; unfortunately, so too have the hackers who aim to exploit your sensitive company data.
It may be unpleasant to imagine, but the consequences of a data breach often severely hurt the businesses that fall victim to them.
These breaches not only disrupt your business operations but can also damage the financial health and reputation of your entire organization.
How do you avoid these unfortunate outcomes? By having clear IT security strategies in place to prevent data breaches of this nature.
However, before you can implement these powerful strategies, it’s necessary to have a crystal clear understanding of what IT security is and what it is not.
That’s what this article aims to accomplish today.
What is IT Security?
IT security is your company’s set of strategies whose purpose for stopping unauthorized access to sensitive or critical resources such as your data, devices, and networks.
These strategies help your private information stay private and away from curious eyes and malicious hackers, thus maintaining confidentiality.
For example, if your company wanted to maintain its internet gateways’ security, a simple strategy would be to reduce the number of external connections to your organization’s network.
In order to do this, your typical traffic patterns should be understood well enough that abnormal traffic patterns are fairly easy to detect. Your cybersecurity strategies would then indicate how to respond to such behavior, unauthorized entry, or other malicious activity forms.
The Differences Between IT Security, Cybersecurity, and Information Security
Albeit related, IT security, information security, and cybersecurity are not exactly the same thing.
The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are still distinctions that ought to be addressed in order to give you a clear understanding of how to plan and implement your own IT security strategy.
IT security relates to the security of your company’s data via computer network security. Attached to this is a concept called Information Assurance, which refers to CIA.
No, not the Central Intelligence Agency. In IT security, CIA refers to confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
Confidentiality is about protecting sensitive and private information from unauthorized access.
Integrity relates to protecting your data from deletion or modification for unauthorized persons.
Last but not least, availability refers to the actual availability of company data.
Information security relates to the different tools and processes your company uses specifically to protect any critical or sensitive business information.
Cybersecurity deals explicitly with protecting your business’s sensitive and critical data from cybercriminals.
Although their malicious attempts usually occur over the internet, these attacks can happen face-to-face as well.
Many companies believe that because they aren’t some large tech company or a serious government organization that they’re unlikely targets of a cyberattack.
If only this were true.
In reality, the potential cyber threats to your company are real and prevalent. Just because you’re small or don’t produce something you consider “high-value” doesn’t mean you’re safe.
Keep in mind as well that many cyberattacks, like phishing and malware, aren’t necessarily targeted.
Instead hackers send out mass emails or infect websites knowing someone, somewhere will click the wrong link and infect their computer. We’ll go into greater detail on this point later in this article.
Businesses that store large amounts of sensitive data would obviously do well to ensure they follow IT security best practices, as security breaches could result in extremely costly business losses and legal penalties.
But even if such an outcome were not the case, to ignore the possibility of malicious attacks is to ignore the risk of your day-to-day operations abruptly shutting down for an unknown period of time.
There’s also a risk that your internal and external business communications might be disrupted if your cloud applications’ security, or even your social media accounts, are compromised.
Such breaches, especially those that divulge your users’ private information, could lead to significant reputational damage, loss of data, and an inevitable hit to your bottom line.
IT Security Threats
There are several significant threats to your business’s network security. If your company is to counter them, it’s important to understand these threats and how they work.
For this reason, we’ll be exploring these common threats below.
Weak Security Policies
This is, by far, one of the most basic vulnerabilities to your IT security. If an unauthorized person wanted to gain access to your network, this would be the simplest vulnerability to exploit.
Having unlocked or easily unlocked devices make for easy targets for this kind of threat, and even less than sophisticated hackers can take advantage of any weak company passwords.
Organizations that fall prey to these threats generally have no password change policies in place, don’t require automatic device locking after inactivity, or have poor access control policies in place.
Web Browser Extensions
Although most appear to be benign, some web browser extensions have been compromised by cybercriminals in their attempt to gain access to the sensitive data of users, including web history, cookies, and even saved passwords.
As convenient as public wifi is, it comes with its own concerns.
Public wifi networks are a common avenue that hackers use when attempting Man-in-the-Middle cyber attacks, which allow them to intercept your data that’s following through the public wifi connection.
This is especially a concern for employees that work remotely, as these workers often utilize cafes and other public locations for the free wifi.
Phishing attacks are a form of social engineering that occur when a cybercriminal attempts to trick you or your employees into giving up your private information via email, phone, in person, and now even through SMS communication.
They accomplish this by posing as a legitimate brand or person that asks for your private information.
Malware is among the most popular and common threats to your business’s network.
Defined simply, malware is malicious software, programs, or files that are deliberately placed on your network.
They go by many names, including trojan horses, viruses, spyware, etc.
You may also encounter malware in the form of a Backdoor Attack, which refers to any method that authorized or unauthorized users use to bypass standard security measures to gain access to your company’s network, software applications, or computer systems.
Ransomware is a type of malware that, once downloaded, immediately encrypts and prevents you from accessing your company’s systems and data until you pay a ransom.
Most come via suspicious emails that try to trick you into clicking nefarious links or to download malware disguised as a normal attachment. You can also encounter them on suspicious sites.
Failing to properly update your browser, operating system, or installed software may also leave your business vulnerable to ransomware attacks.
Keep in mind that even after payment, there is no guarantee that the criminal will actually give you access to your captured data.
Your Own Employees
Unfortunately, the biggest security threat to your business is probably your own employees.
For instance, the victims of phishing attacks are typically employees who were duped into clicking a suspicious link in an email. Of course, security breaches caused by employees are not always accidental.
Sometimes employees are given a greater level of access to your company’s systems than necessary, which enables them to abuse their access privileges for personal gain.
The simplest way to mitigate this issue is to set smart policies regarding employee data privileges and routinely educate your workforce on how to avoid phishing attacks.
Unpatched Software & Hardware Vulnerabilities
As technology changes and ages, hackers eventually learn how to bypass old hardware and software security measures.
Because there are so many cybercriminals looking to exploit outdated security systems, one of riskiest things your company can do is to dismiss the updates that pop-up on your business devices and applications.
Although it may be tempting to snooze an update to save an extra 5-10 minutes of your workday, doing so actually puts your company’s security at risk.
The best way to counter this risk is to maintain regular update schedules and to have your IT team make sure that the latest security patches are being applied to company systems.
What Are the Types of IT Security?
While each security expert has his or her own way of categorizing IT security, there are generally 7 types that you should be concerned with: network, data, internet, data, cloud, application, and physical security.
Keep in mind that as networks and systems continue to integrate with the cloud as well as other emerging technologies, new forms of IT security will also likely be developed to accommodate emerging threats to your security.
Network security relates to protecting the interaction of your company’s network and your devices through the use of a firewall–ideally a next-generation firewall.
This would protect your network from unauthorized access, unexpected malfunctions, misuse, destruction, modification, and improper disclosure of information.
Data security relates to protecting the actual files, data, and databases that house your company information.
Commonly used data security practices include data encryption, tokenization, hashing, and key management.
Internet security is about making sure that any type of access to the internet is protected both out and in.
The purpose of this is to ensure that access to certain malicious sites or other nefarious web entities isn’t allowed entry to the network.
Internet security measures can be established inside the network or outside the network to accommodate employees that are roaming, traveling, or simply working remotely.
A simple example of this is when your employees use a VPN at a coffee shop instead of the publicly available wifi.
Endpoint security relates the security of the endpoint device at your company workstations, although it can also include mobile devices’ security.
This type of IT security stops your company devices from being accessible to malicious networks that might compromise your business data’s safety.
Anti-virus software and device management software are standard practices of endpoint security.
Cloud security relates to protecting your company applications, data, and identities on the public cloud and thus not protected by your on-premise security stack.
Cloud security best practices involve using a cloud access security broker (CASB), a secure internet gateway (SIG), and cloud-based unified threat management (UTM) as a way of limiting who has access to your company cloud networks.
Application security refers to the security of applications that your company is running, whether they be on-premise or in the cloud.
Application security makes sure that the data inside your company applications is secure and not open to unauthorized personnel.
The goal of application security is to limit access to your applications to relevant personnel. Even then, making sure that said person only has access to what they need, no more, no less.
This is likely the simplest form of IT security. It involves setting up proper security measures so that both employees and non-employees aren’t able to steal company data, whether that’s by stealing devices, hard drives, servers, etc.
Making sure that server rooms are locked, giving only authorized personal keycards, and having security watch for intruders goes a long way with making sure that company data doesn’t unexpectedly leave the premises.
Protecting Your Organization From IT Security Threats
Having covered the different types of IT security, we’re now ready to move on to the topic of protecting your business from various threats.
These suggestions focus on practices that are easy to implement but are often overlooked by many organizations.
Remote Work Policies
Make sure your company implements and educates your employees on remote work policies.
These include but are not limited to:
- Avoiding public wifi-networks or encrypting your web connection.
- Making sure not to conduct work on personal computers.
- Remember to check that no one is able to see your screen if working with sensitive data.
- As an extra precautionary measure, using a USB data blocker when charging at public phone charging stations often found at malls.
Data redundancy technically relates more to business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR), but it’s still relevant to address here as a response to certain incidents, particularly those relating to ransomware attacks.
In these situations, the criminal has control of your data, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be getting it back–but if your company implements data redundancy and has a backup or copy of the stolen data, you won’t need to worry so much about the ransom.
At that point, the next step would be to find out how your IT security was compromised and to patch up the hole so that this incident doesn’t happen again.
Internet & Hardware Security
As mentioned earlier in the article, having your remote or off-premise employees use a VPN to connect to your business network is a good way to reinforce your business’s internet security.
For hardware security, remember to keep all company devices password protected, and set them to lock after an amount of inactivity.
To keep unauthorized users from bypassing your password protection, make sure to enable two-step verification.
Keep Up with Updates
Keep relevant software applications updated. This is good not only for making sure that the applications run without issue but also for keeping their security up to date. Older applications are more susceptible to hacking.
Audit Your IT Security
Creating and implementing regular IT security audits is the best way to keep track of which strategies and practices are working and which need to either be improved or removed from your policies. The audits help you assess your company’s level of risk in a way that is measurable.
For this reason, the objectives and methodologies that will be used to conduct the audit should be clearly defined.
IT Security Policy Best Practices
Having IT security policies in place is critical to protecting your company data, but it isn’t enough to simply have policies–you have to make sure they’re manageable and implement them as well.
Having policies that are too tight end up being needlessly restrictive, while creating policies that are too broad may not be secure enough; the secret is finding the right balance that fits your unique company’s needs.
Policies that restrict the sharing of passwords both inside and outside your organization, group policies in the IT department that relate to server access, and similar protocols are all things to keep in mind when developing or reviewing your own IT security policies.
The main thing to keep in mind with IT security policies is that they must specify that all employees comply with your stated rules and guidelines.
Business managers typically achieve this by setting up acceptable use policies (AUPs), which stipulate the constraints and practices that employees must agree to in order to interact with your business’s network or internet.
Safeguard Your Business’s Future by Protecting Your Networks
The advanced technologies that are available today have helped businesses of all shapes and sizes grow and innovate in important ways, but with all innovations come new problems that must be dealt with.
Having your entire business on the internet makes it more easily accessible and scalable, but it also runs the risk of a hacker breaching your security and gaining access to critical information.
IT Security is what keeps your business safe as it continues to adapt to the modern era. To make sure that your own business stays prepared for potential IT Security threats, keep the lessons and best practices covered here in mind.
- What is IT Security? – IT Security is the set of cybersecurity strategies that your company uses to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data and or critical resources, including data, devices, and networks.
- Cybersecurity vs IT Security vs Information Security – IT Security relates to the security of your business’s data via computer network security. Information security refers to the different tools and processes used to protect any critical or private business info. Cybersecurity deals with safeguarding sensitive business data from cyberattacks.
- Why is IT Security Important? – Cyberattacks and security breaches occur all the time, and most attacks aren’t targeted, meaning that all businesses, even smaller mom and pop shops, are at risk. A breach of your private data can lead to reputational damage, financial loss, and disruption to business operations.
- IT Security Threats – Common IT Security threats include: weak security policies, compromised web browser extensions, unsecured public wifi, phishing attacks, ransomware, malware, and employees who accidentally or purposefully compromise your network security.
- Types of IT Security – The different types of IT Security include: network security, data security, internet security, endpoint security, cloud security, application security, and physical security.
- IT Security Best Practices – Common best practices for maintaining IT Security include the use of remote work policies, applying data redundancy to mitigate damage in the event of a ransomware incident, implementing internet and hardware security, keeping up with software and application updates, auditing your IT Security, and having a specific and manageable set of IT Security policies.
Maintaining Your Business’s IT Security
Having solid IT Security isn’t just for big companies.
Still, with everything that needs to be done, from the security audits to policy implementation, it can feel like one too many things to deal with on-top of your standard business operations.
Spend less time worrying about your security and more time running your business by taking advantage of our Managed Security Services, which come with preventative IT Security measures on top of our advanced threat detection and remediation solutions.