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What is network security and why is it important?

At a glance

  • Network security helps protect data that is both stored and in transit from vulnerabilities and cyber attackers.
  • Good network security benefits businesses in a number of ways, including stability, trust and regulatory compliance.
  • Privacy, consistency and availability are three main objectives of network security.
  • Many positions in network security require a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or in a related field. 

Businesses across the world are responsible for a wide range of sensitive data moving across their networks and infrastructure. This can range from credit card information and home addresses to user locations and social media passwords.

On one hand, this data has to travel quickly and efficiently to keep up with the pace of the modern world. At the same time, unauthorized access to this data can cause huge problems for businesses and consumers alike.

That’s where network security comes in. It’s through network security protocols and solutions that businesses are able to protect the data that’s stored in and processed by their networks from cyber attackers. We’ll take a deep dive into what network security is and why it’s so important for businesses today.

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Why is network security important?

Here are some benefits of good network security:

Stable business

No matter what type of data moves through their networks, businesses never want to experience a data breach. When hackers access, manipulate or steal data, everything from patented business secrets to the personal information of employees can be compromised. This can cause a total shutdown of business processes and even the potential end of a business entirely.

Good network security ensures that businesses don’t experience a breach like this. In the event that one does occur, good network security can help mitigate the damage and keep the business running. 

Trust

For businesses that handle user data, such as an e-commerce company handling credit card information, there’s little room for security error. Even a single leak of personal data can ruin a company’s reputation and make it difficult to win back customer trust.

By implementing the best network security protocols, businesses can help assure customers that their data is in safe hands. This, in turn, can promote further trust and business between the customer and the company. 

Regulatory compliance

A host of laws governs the security standards of businesses in the U.S. and around the world. Falling out of compliance can lead to large fines or other penalties. Many businesses cannot afford this outcome.

Fortunately, network security services can automatically keep business networks up to date with the latest regulations. This avoids incurring legal penalties, all while keeping company data safe. 

Objectives of network security

Privacy

One of the primary concerns of network security is privacy. Keeping sensitive information under digital lock and key forms a major objective of network security. 

Consistency

Data is hardly useful if it’s inconsistent. A biotech company developing a new vaccine, for instance, must rely on previous data to make new discoveries and breakthroughs. A major objective of network security in this case might be to ensure that this data is not altered without authorization or is handled through managed processes. 

Availability

While the two other objectives of network security help keep data safe, they cannot come at the expense of access control and business processes. If data is so secure that no one, not even authorized users, can access it, then it won’t be very useful. Workers tasked with network security have to balance the sometimes-competing needs of security and business processes to make data available when needed.

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Important elements of network security

Up-to-date security software

The security software installed on a network largely handles the real moment-to-moment work of keeping the network and infrastructure safe. From firewalls to VPNs, this software keeps 24/7 watch over a business’s network. It’s crucial that this software is current. 

Data segregation

Let’s say a business’s crucial financial data is held solely on one hard drive. If that hard drive is stolen or malfunctions, then that financial data can be compromised or lost forever. The same applies to data that’s kept on solely one server. Any compromise of that server can spell disaster.

Proper data segregation ensures that an issue in one part of a network does not grow into a larger problem. By splitting data up between numerous places on a network, it’s much easier to mitigate the potential damage if one of those places is breached. 

Automated backups

Going hand-in-hand with data segregation, automated backups make sure a single failure somewhere in the network doesn’t lead to irreparable data loss. By automating the process of copying and backing up data, workers tasked with network security can rest assured that the data is safe in case of catastrophe. 

Office culture

When employees don’t take network security seriously, a business can be left open to cyberthreats. A security breach can happen by virtue of accessing company Wi-Fi without a VPN, for example. Beyond the hardware and software concerns, good network security should keep everyone within a business aware of security policies, such as authentication and how to avoid malware, and why they are important. 

Types of network security

Here are some examples of the tools network security experts use to keep data safe:

Firewalls

One of the most common types of network security used today, firewalls form a digital barrier between networks. They form a first line of defense against unauthorized data access from another network. Firewalls are not 100% effective, however, and should be incorporated with other network security solutions.

Intrusion detection systems

Intrusion detection systems (IDS) are the next line of defense after the firewall. They continuously scan a network for signs of a breach, such as from malware, allowing data security specialists to address any issues. In addition, they can provide useful data to prevent a similar breach in the future. 

Proxy servers

Proxy servers essentially serve as bodyguards, standing between the server where data is housed and whatever source is requesting access to that data. A proxy server will filter incoming traffic, evaluate each request, and permit or block that traffic. Along with the security benefits, proxy servers can help networks run more efficiently by denying invalid requests. 

Anti-DDoS systems

Potential hackers use distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to overload a network with traffic in the hope it will cause a server failure that will create a vulnerability. Using anti-DDoS systems, however, companies can absorb this incoming traffic without risk of a breach. Such systems also provide useful information on the origin and nature of an attack. 

Spam and web filters

These filters prevent users from accessing email and websites that might contain viruses or malware. By directing users away from danger, these filters head off potential cyberattacks from the start. 

Helpful tools for network security

Auditing tools

There are many ways for potential cyberthreats to compromise a network. Auditing software can help specialists find network vulnerabilities by running a number of simulated cyberattacks against the network. Specialists can use the resulting data to make adjustments that will better protect the entire infrastructure. 

Security dashboards

For assessing the ongoing security posture of a network, security dashboards are network security experts’ best friend. They provide a bird’s-eye view of all network resources as well as the firewall status, data flow, incoming traffic and more. These dashboards are central to monitoring a broad, complicated network. 

Identity and access management tools

Using these tools, network security experts can assign differing levels of data access within an organization. This helps prevent unauthorized users from accessing data they’re not supposed to, while providing easy access to data that’s available for sharing. These tools also help prevent an unauthorized employee from accidentally performing a function on a network while working. 

Jobs in network security

Pretty much every business that works with data has a vested interest in keeping that data, and the network it’s hosted on, secure. Here are some exciting roles in network security:

Information security analyst

Overview: These analysts are tasked with implementing protocols to keep a business’s data, network and computer systems safe from security threats. They are responsible for keeping data systems up to date with the latest regulatory standards monitoring for security breaches.

National average salary: In May 2020, information security analysts made between $60,060 and $163,300, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Educational requirement: A bachelor’s degree in computer and information technology or a related field is typical. Because of the importance of keeping business data safe from intrusion, a master’s in cybersecurity can help a candidate stand out as someone who can take on the responsibility.

Job outlook: This role is projected to grow 33% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS.

Network and computer systems administrator

Overview: Administrators are responsible for the day-to-day operations of a business’s network. Along with general data management, these administrators oversee the security of a network and implement changes to keep up with new threats and regulations.  

National average salary: Network and computer systems administrators made between $52,830 and $134,970 in May 2020, according to BLS.

Educational requirement: Most employers require a bachelor’s degree in information technology or a related field, such as a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity.

Job outlook: This role is projected to grow 5% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS.

Computer and information systems manager

Overview: These managers help businesses achieve their data management goals by suggesting and implementing security solutions to protect the network, along with managing other aspects of the network at large.

National average salary: In May 2020, computer and information systems managers earned between $90,430 and $208,000, according to BLS.

Educational requirement: A bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field, like cybersecurity, are typical perquisites to this kind of position, but more competitive businesses may require a master’s degree in information systems.

Job outlook: Jobs for computer and information systems managers are projected to grow 11% between 2020 and 2030, according to BLS.