The increasing value of personal data means that computer networks — groups of devices like computers, phones and internet of things tech joined together to communicate data with one another — are major targets for hackers and other cyber criminals.
Even home networks can face a wide variety of digital threats in the form of malware and phishing attacks.
Below, we’ll cover the basics of network security and some of the simple strategies that cybersecurity professionals use to keep networks of all sizes secure against hackers and cyber criminals.
What is Computer Network Security?
At its simplest, network security is taking proactive steps to prevent the unauthorized access, monitoring or modification of data on your computer network.
Unauthorized access could look like a data breach, in which a hacker breaks into a company network to steal customer information and confidential files.
Modification and monitoring could look like malware or viruses — malicious files installed on a computer in the network without user consent. It can also look like a “man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack,” in which a hacker secretly intercepts, and possibly alters, data as it moves from one device to another.
The Basics of Network Security
Advanced cybersecurity can become quite complex and involve advanced cryptography and network management to protect data and keep hackers out. Still, there are basic strategies that anyone can use to secure their networks — whether that’s a home network with a few computers, or a larger business network.
Keep devices updated to the latest patch. Developers of computer operating systems and smart devices regularly update security tech as cybersecurity researchers discover new threats and vulnerabilities.
If you keep your devices updated, you will be less likely to fall victim to an exploit or vulnerability that’s been patched out in the latest version.
Keeping software updated can provide similar protection.
Strong passwords can also help keep out of your system and personal accounts. Common attacks include dictionary attacks, a kind of brute force attack in which hackers run through a dictionary of common words and phrases to break into accounts with weak passwords.
When creating passwords, use a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.
It’s also a good idea to avoid making the password the same as your username, network name or especially common passwords — like “password123” or “qwerty.”
These passwords are extremely easy to guess. A brute-force attacker may test them early on when trying to break into an account.
Security for Larger Networks
For networks with a large number of users — like a corporate network — managing user access privileges can help you keep confidential data safe. If users only have access to the resources they need to do their jobs, a hacker is less likely to have complete access to the network in the event of a breach.
Companies with resources to invest in cybersecurity can take further steps to keep their networks safe. For example, they might adopt cybersecurity platforms and tools that keep track of major security events — like unusual network activity that may be a sign of a breach — enabling IT staff to identify potential threats sooner than they may have been able to otherwise.
Other good cybersecurity policies — like cleaning up inactive accounts, which hackers often use to disguise their activity, and regulating network access from personal devices — can help companies keep their data safe.
Keeping a Computer Network Secure
Modern computer networks are vulnerable to attacks from hackers — but you can limit the risk of a breach by practicing good network security.
Simple practices, like keeping software updated and using strong passwords, can go a long way. For businesses that manage large computer networks and have resources to spare, more advanced approaches — involving user access management and cybersecurity tools — can make networks even safer.
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