Network security is the term used for the collection of policies, practices, and technologies that are used to protect computer networks – and the data they transmit – from unauthorised access, misuse or disruption.
Network security works to secure both the physical and virtual components of a network – including routers, servers, gateways, wireless networks, and other devices connected to the network infrastructure – from threats and breaches.
In an interconnected world where information flows seamlessly between devices and networks, network security has become a fundamental tool for protecting against cyber threats.
Why is network security important?
Network security is one of the most effective tools available in the fight against hackers and other cybercriminals. And, with technology central to most of our daily activity, network security is now a critical consideration in all digital development. Network security works to:
- Protect sensitive data. Network security safeguards sensitive information such as financial data, personal records or intellectual property from unauthorised access and disclosure, ensuring privacy and confidentiality.
- Mitigate financial loss. Effective network security measures help prevent financial losses – including penalties and fines – resulting from data breaches. These measures can also prevent the financial losses that arise from disruptions to business activities, operations, or services.
- Preserve organisational reputation and trust. A breach in network security can severely damage an organisation’s reputation, eroding trust among customers and stakeholders.
- Ensure regulatory compliance. Many industries have specific regulations regarding data protection and security. Implementing network security measures helps organisations comply with these regulations and avoid legal consequences.
- Maintain business continuity. Network security measures such as backups and disaster recovery plans can ensure the continuity of operations and minimise downtime in the face of security incidents.
Common threats to network security
Network security systems may face a range of threats and cyber attacks that aim to exploit vulnerabilities, gain access to networks and data or disrupt network operations.
Understanding these threats is the first step towards implementing effective network security measures.
Common threats include:
- Phishing. Phishing attacks trick users into revealing sensitive information such as login credentials or financial details by posing as legitimate entities via email or deceptive websites.
- Denial of Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS). DoS and DDoS attacks overwhelm network resources, rendering services inaccessible and causing widespread disruption. These are targeted attacks that flood a system with traffic in an effort to crash it and make it inaccessible to legitimate users.
- Malware. Malicious software including viruses, worms, and ransomware, can infiltrate systems and compromise network security, leading to data breaches and system damage.
- Unauthorised access. Hackers can exploit weak access controls or vulnerabilities to gain unauthorised entry into networks, potentially compromising sensitive data or launching further attacks.
Common network security measures
There are many types of network security measures, and network security systems will typically employ a variety of them to fortify defenses and mitigate potential risks.
- Firewalls. Firewalls act as gatekeepers within a network. They monitor and filter incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predefined security rules, prevent unauthorised access to the network and protect it against potential threats.
- Intrusion detection systems (IDS). Intrusion detection systems alert organisations when suspicious activity is detected within a network.
- Intrusion prevention systems (IPS). Intrusion prevention systems work to block malicious activity.
- Virtual private networks (VPNs). VPNs establish secure, encrypted connections over public networks, ensuring confidentiality and privacy for remote access and communication.
- Antivirus and anti-malware software. These tools detect, prevent, and remove malicious software such as viruses, Trojans, spyware, ransomware and other threats to network security.
- Data loss prevention (DLP) tools. DLP solutions monitor and control sensitive information. In doing so, they can prevent unauthorised disclosure, ensure regulatory or legal compliance, and minimise data breach incidents.
- Network access controls. Network access is an important area of network security. It encourages strong authentication mechanisms such as passwords, multi-factor authentication or biometrics to verify an authorised user’s identity and grant appropriate access privileges within the network.
- Security policies. Comprehensive security policies outline important areas of internal network security such as guidelines for acceptable use, data handling, email security, password management and security awareness training for employees.
- Network segmentation. Network segmentation divides networks into isolated segments. Doing so limits the potential impact of a security breach because it prevents unauthorised movement within the wider network.
- Endpoint security. Endpoint security ensures that network endpoints such as computers, laptops and mobile devices have up-to-date antivirus software, regular patches and secure configurations.
- Application security. Application security works to safeguard individual organisational apps for providers.
- Encryption. Encryption protects sensitive data from unauthorised interception and maintains its confidentiality during transit and storage.
- Behavioural analytics. Behavioural analytics are a proactive network security measure. They assess network traffic and user behaviour to detect anomalies and potential security threats, ensuring that issues are identified and addressed as soon as possible.
The future of network security
As cyber threats continue to evolve, so too must the technologies, processes and network security solutions that network administrators use to address them. This includes:
- Regularly updating security controls.
- Staying informed about emerging vulnerabilities and best practices.
- Harnessing new technologies, such as artificial intelligence-powered security information and event management (SIEM), as they become available.
Network security must continue to advance in line with new and emerging cyber security threats. This means keeping up with and using the latest technologies such as those in artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning and automation, so those responsible for information systems are well prepared to manage threats of the future.
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