Some Internet security steps are relatively simple and can be performed by the average, non-technical person. However, as the size and complexity of a business grows, even these "routine" tasks must be effectively managed to protect your data from compromise.
- Virus and spyware protection. Software programs installed on a computer to protect against malware, which is unwittingly downloaded, usually through email or a website, but sometimes through organized. There are basically two kinds of malware:
- self-replicating computer viruses designed to spread infection throughout a computer network to either disrupt efficiency or outright disable functionality
- spyware that does not self-replicate, but rather is surreptitiously installed on a computer to monitor Web behavior, usually to collect data for advertising purposes
- Firewalls. A firewall prevents unauthorized access to a private network. A firewall can involve hardware, software or both. Data received by a private network from other public networks (such as the Internet, other corporate intranets, an online email service, etc.) is screened according to certain security criteria. If the criteria aren't met, the data is blocked from the private network.
Firewalls have two main uses:
- they prevent network users from accessing inappropriate websites, such as sites containing pornography, illegal content, or inappropriate content
- they prevent network users from receiving solicitations from senders or sites that are known offenders of network rules.
While firewalls are effective against unsophisticated hacking that depends in large part on duping legitimate network users into revealing access information, knowledgeable hackers can breach most firewalls.
- Passwords and Email Security. Just about everything is password-protected, from your computer to the websites you visit. There are certain standards for ensuring passwords are not easily compromised (e.g., they must include certain combinations of upper and lower alphanumeric characters that are not easily guessed). Most corporations typically require users to change passwords regularly as an extra security precaution. Good security software or services can help automate the process of password selection, changing, and verification.
Another aspect of password security is education, making sure users do not divulge their passwords or other confidential information in emails, over the phone, on social networks, or in other seemingly innocent exchanges. Certain emails regularly circulate that contain malware attachments; even opening the email without opening the attachment can contaminate not only the user's computer and the immediate network, but the computer and network of every contact ever made through that user's email program.
Periodic alerts warn users to immediately delete such suspected email malware.
- Mobile Security. The growing popularity and prevalence of mobile applications raise a host of security issues. Faster network connections, more remote and mobile users using a variety of laptop, iPhone, iPad, and Android platforms all require new, more complex solutions to protect network integrity.
Trends in Internet Security for Businesses
- BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Corporate IT departments once strictly controlled employee hardware (remember when the only corporate cell phone was a Blackberry?). However, particularly for mobile devices, employees more frequently are allowed, and expect, to use their own consumer devices within the corporate network. Consequently, network security must encompass and coordinate a range of security levels that address multiple kinds of devices using multiple operating systems and platforms.
- New IPv6 Internet protocol institutes fundamental changes that require additional security steps. The current standard -- IPv4 -- uses 32-bit addresses for every device connected to the Internet. The new IPv6 standard uses 128-bit addressing. The shift is necessary due to the exploding number of devices connected to the Internet. While 128-bit addressing should enable greater security, it's not compatible with IPv4, meaning security experts will have to juggle both protocols.
- Emerging Web standards such as HTML5 also involve new strategies to protect against potential security breaches. One particular feature of HTML5 is geo-location, which can be exploited to place users and equipment at specific times and places, which has a myriad of security, privacy, and legal implications that are just beginning to be addressed.
- Mac Attack. Yes, Macs are not affected by most malware, since it is written primarily for Windows, which remains the dominant corporate operating system platform. And while Mac software has well-deserved reputation for smart security, there is no such thing as invulnerability. Unfortunately, this lures many Mac users into thinking they don't need to worry about viruses, despite the threat that was posed by the 2012 Mac-focused Flashback virus. While Macs may represent only a small portion of corporate users, the fact that these users aren't accustomed worrying about malware presents a growing possible entry point for a malware outbreak.
- Similarly, while Windows 8 has not been widely adopted by many corporate IT departments, users who connect to corporate networks with Windows 8 computers may represent a security risk due new firmware that is attracting hacker interest.
Internet Devices are multiplying. Beyond smartphones, tablet computers, and e-readers, there is an advancing army of Internet-connected devices coming that will challenge the capabilities of any Internet security system. The list includes wearable computers, such as Internet-connected eyeglasses, health monitors and smart watches.
Then there are machines that don't need humans, like self-driving cars, smart thermostats, and remote-control flying objects. And then there are devices implanted into people, such as pacemakers and medication regulators. It's a serious security problem if someone can gain unauthorized access to a device inside your body.
Considerations When Hiring Internet Security Firms
An Internet security firm can perform all the following list of functions on behalf of your employees, notifying them of automatic downloads, performing security system updates, managing password authorizations, training employees to be aware phishing tactics.
However, these aren't specialized skills sets and could just as easily be provided by your regular IT staff. What Internet security firms specialize in is the proactive testing of a company's network to determine vulnerabilities by which hackers could gain unauthorized access to exploit and damage your operations. In addition to scanning and correcting the identified vulnerabilities on either an ad hoc or subscription basis, Internet security firms offer a range of packaged solutions and services, such as:
- Email hosting, with filters to detect and quarantine viruses, spam, spyware, malware, and other prohibited content.
- Encryption, the ability to scramble information being transmitted in a way that can only be read by the intended receiver -- or someone who possesses a key to decode the transmission. Good encryption practices require additional effort to properly integrate encryption with other layers of network security.
- Firewall filtering to define and limit network user access to prohibited sites while ensuring safe Web browsing and social media use.
- Data protection that monitors employee external communications to external and internal networks and quarantines suspicious or unauthorized activity.
- Email archiving to automatically back up and store employee email communications. For some organizations, email archiving is required by law. For others, the ability to search throughout an organization's emails can lead to insights into what drives an organization and what erodes it.
- Cloud services with hosted networks where your company data is stored on huge and multiply redundant servers at remote locations accessed with a Web dashboard or interface. Cloud services offer scalability, higher security, and easier maintenance and provisioning. The growing popularity of cloud services, while touted as more secure than on-site hosted networks, nonetheless introduce new access points with potential vulnerability. They have shifted the emphasis of computer security efforts from local networks to Web-server and Web-application protection.
- Alert services via email, text message, Twitter, chat, or RSS feed. These alerts notify users that a security monitor has been triggered and specifies appropriate response actions.
- Elasticity, which is the ability of the network to integrate with cell networks, wireless access points, remote locations and cloud services. Effective security solutions must address rapidly evolving changes in network size and scope. An Internet security provider can usually accommodate multiple interfaces while ensure accurate configurations throughout the infrastructure.
- Employee compliance monitoring for best practices in protecting network integrity.
- Actionable intelligence and insights about malware and other questionable activity on the network.
Glossary of Internet Security Terms
- ActiveX Controls: Links to a Web-embedded object, such as a table or mouse click button; can help users navigate to the information they want, but they also can be pirated to download spyware. ActiveX controls can be restricted to "trusted," preapproved websites only.
- Bot: An Internet robot; an automated program that works without a human operator.
- Botnet: Network of bots installed on multiple computers capable of being activated or used by one central controller.
- Cookies: Small files implanted by websites on computers to enable such services as customization, personalization, and location-based recommendations. Cookies are often used by websites to track visitor actions online without direct consent.
- Cracker: A hacker engaged in criminal behavior. While all hacking could be considered criminal because it involves gaining unauthorized access to networks, crackers engage in hacking with criminal intent. That is, they are hacking for the purpose of stealing, destroying, or altering data.
- Spoof: A fake Web or email address very similar to a legitimate site such as a bank or credit card company. Victims who respond to the fake address are prompted to divulge personal information, frequently under the guise of ensuring security.
- Zero-Day Exploit: Software and security vendors regularly announce vulnerabilities and release patches to fix the problem. Such "zero-day" announcements are prime opportunities for hackers to exploit the announced flaws before users have the opportunity to install the fix.