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Your network can help you spot data breaches early – here’s how

July 16, 2019 No Comments

Featured article by Liku Zelleke , Independent Technology Author

There is no doubt that network security is a critical component of a digital world. It has become an almost daily occurrence to wake up to news headlines about how companies have been hacked into. The consequence is almost always dire to both the company that owns the network and their clients, whose personal and financial data is stolen.

A data breach spells disaster – usually due to huge financial losses – for a business and it isn’t surprising that many have been forced to close their doors because of hacks. Those that do manage to remain in business, do so at a tremendous cost or simply because they were prepared for an attack.

How is your network’s security compromised?

Unfortunately, there are many ways security of a network is compromised. If you happen to be lucky enough to have not had your network breached, it is just that – pure luck. If you happen to be a small business then there is an even more alarming fact you should be aware of: the average hacker targets small businesses like yours, and the number of breaches has been on the rise in recent times.

Remember: the bad guys can get to you – you’re just lucky you haven’t been hit… yet!

Two critical factors that can lead to your network being breached are:

- Untrained employees – human error can cost you dearly. The weakest link in any corporate network is always the human factor; someone will always drop the ball. Whether it is a weak password, careless storage and sharing of data or the use of unauthorized gadgets in secure environments, there are just too many factors that lead to a data breach. And worst of all are disgruntled employees.

- Insecure nodes – no soft- or hardware solution is ever 100% secure; it is, in fact, a myth. As long as it is exposed to the Internet, there will always be some “expert” out there that finds an exploit and manages to use it to their advantage. Just hope the good guys patch security holes faster than the bad guys can spot them.

The best tactic to adopt here would be to keep training your staff about digital security matters and install security solutions that will monitor your network to prevent data breaches or alert you of any attempts at doing so.

Your network can tell you when a data breach is happening

And so, how do you go about preventing a data breach? Well, the best way to go about it is to detect threats before they happen or, at least, spot them while they are happening. To do this, a network needs to have an intrusion detection system (IDS) in place.

An IDS is a software application that runs on a network and analyzes the traffic going through it to see if there is any malicious packets passing through, or if there are attempts being made to access data or resources without the proper authorization.

There are two types of IDS:

- Host-based intrusion detection system (HIDS)

- Network-based intrusion detection system (NIDS)

cloud ch 300x225 Your network can help you spot data breaches early – here’s howImage source

Let us have a look at what they are and how they can help you protect your network.

Host-based intrusion detection (HIDS)

An HIDS is an intrusion detection system that is installed on specific computers and serves to protect only the devices that it runs on. It prevents intrusion by monitoring key system files and alerts administrators when they are compromised or attempts are made to modify them.

Ideally, an HIDS is installed on networks where the number of computers on it is small and are easily accessible.

Network-based intrusion detection (NIDS)

An NIDS is a software solution that is installed on larger networks to detect any malicious activities or rogue data packets. Once the system is installed on selected computers in the network, it analyzes all the packets that pass through it looking for patterns that would indicate any attempts at hacking, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks or port scanning.

An NIDS can also be configured to keep an eye on local traffic to thwart any attempts that originate from within the network itself. This is a strategy that will stop attack attempts from people who have managed to physically access the network – usually authorized employees.

Finally, an NIDS can also be a hardware system that performs the same job as a software solution.

What are the signs to look out for?

Your network will give you signs when something is wrong. Some of these signs to look out for include:

- Slowing down – if there is a sudden slowing down of data transfer speeds (and there is no plausible reason for it) the network could be being used to transport data you do not know about. In some instances, only a particular part of your network might slow down indicating it is being targeted specifically.

- Unrecognized packets – hackers can spoof or inject packets into your network and cause it to slow down or even come to a complete halt. An IDS will check to see if data sent from one point reaches its intended destination and also whether data that is being received comes from a legitimate source. If not, an alert is sent out.

- Unauthorized programs running – if you happen to come across programs that are running on your network, and you or your colleagues have no clue who is responsible for it, it could be a sign your network has been breached.

- Large amounts of data being transferred – if there is a sudden spike of data transfer on your network, especially during off hours or when no surges are expected, you can safely assume there is someone trying to filch information.

- Unidentified users and accounts – if you happen to notice accounts and usernames that are not policy-compliant or stand out for some other reason, they could belong to someone accessing your network illegally.

- Users and accounts accessing confidential data – if you notice there is someone on your network accessing data they shouldn’t be privy to (or attempting to do so), even if the accounts appear to be legitimate, you may have hacked accounts running amok on your network.

- Pings and port scans – a high rate of pings on your network or tools being used to scan your ports could be a sign that you are either being tested for a weak spot, or you are about to get hit with a DDoS attack.

- Listening tools – if you detect listening tools trying to hijack your packets, it is a clear sign that someone is out there trying to get information from your network.

As we have just seen, there are many ways your network could come under attack. But, the good news is that a good network performance monitoring tool will let you stay one step ahead of malicious attempts at disrupting your network’s performance. Investing in monitoring tools will always be worth it as they alert you when these sorts of hacking attempts are made.

Is that all you need to protect your network?

While software and hardware solutions will help you monitor your network and alert you of imminent attacks, you should also take some preventive measures. A few examples:

- Training your network users about security threats and how they can help prevent them

- Maintaining a strict audit on the user accounts, roles, and permissions

- Timely patching and updating of all software being used on the network

- Installation of anti-viruses, anti-malware, and proxies to control data flow

- Physically securing your hardware and access points to deny hacks from within the network

In conclusion, network administrators and their users should keep themselves updated on current security threat trends. Because, as quickly as technology security is evolving, hackers somehow still seem to always be one step ahead. Staying informed about what they are up to, could help you recognize and stop attempts at an attack.


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