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10 Steps to Create a Secure IT Environment

  • 12-13 min read
  • August 03, 2021
  • 👍 Rating — 5 (5 votes)

Do you think that your company is secured enough to resist the possible onslaught of cyberattacks? 

Unfortunately, the significance of this question has only been growing over time. Every year thousands of businesses and other institutions encounter cyberattacks. The headlines on another data leak from Facebook constantly appear in our news feeds. Pandemic also played its role and created conditions for a cyber pandemic when the number of attacks and data breaches increased exponentially. 

Damage done by hackers has a long-lasting effect on businesses. As such, disclosing the private data of employees or clients may harm the company’s reputation, hence driving away potential clients and investors. Malware may block the workflow, and DoS attacks may disable the machinery, which leads to profit losses. By the way, the average cost of a cyberattack reached $188,242 in 2018. The wide adoption of advanced technologies, like IoT or cloud computing, improves performance and increases a company’s vulnerability. 

In this context, security concerns have become dominant. However, 80% of IT specialists believe that their companies aren’t prepared to handle cyberattacks. Their focus always shifts elsewhere, for example, to software development, but now is the time to take this issue seriously. 

Creating a secure IT environment is a long play that may be resourceful. But as hackers develop their skills, businesses should strengthen their defenses as well. In this article, we collected a set of useful tips that would guide you through the process of enhancing your business’s cybersecurity.

Possible cyber threats for mid-sized businesses

Hackers are constantly inventing new ways on how to infiltrate your IT environment and take advantage of sensitive data. Before we dive into measures you need to implement, let’s see the most common and most harmful types of attacks your business should be prepared for.

Common cyber threats

Malware

Different types of malware can do a lot of damage,  such as exposing your internal databases, encrypting or deleting data. Mobile devices can be threatened along with desktops or laptops. 

Ransomware, as one of the examples of malware, brings the most problems. Even paying hackers may not lead to a solution, as they can simply provide you with a fake key, and the help of a security expert will be required. 

Phishing Attack

Phishing is still responsible for 36% of data breaches as of 2021. This attack has managed to become slier through the latest years, as hackers could compromise business emails and steal the accounts of high-level executives. 

Phishing attacks are based on targeting individuals rather than exposing vulnerabilities of a certain technology, so a “human factor” plays in favor of criminals a lot. 

Insider Threats

Unfortunately, the users themselves may be the immense jeopardy to security. And it doesn’t count those who have a conscious intention to steal data or abuse the system otherwise (however, such a person can still appear in your team). 

Due to inexperience, ignorance of negligence, employees, contractors, or associates may expose your system, accounts, or data. The rise of remote work brings even a far greater amount of additional threats.

Cloud Jacking

Cloud computing is a new word in the world of business operations. It has become an integral part of the digital transformation that a lot of companies are going through. Cloud technologies also ensure the opportunity for remote work.

Nowadays, intruders can infiltrate your corporate cloud, manipulate and steal data or gain full control over it. Moreover, it’s quite possible to upload harmful files and disguise them. Employees may download them and infect their devices with malware.

IoT Vulnerability

Internet of Things (IoT) is deeply integrated into business operations. It powers smart offices or automizes manufacturing, monitors crop fields, or helps to conduct medical surgeries. A lot of valuable information is transferred through IoT devices. Therefore, they’ve become a desired target for hackers. IoT devices are prone to breaches, especially while they are in the stage of setup. Gaining access to one sensor, attackers may compromise your entire network.

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Top Steps to Ensure Your Network’s Security

The threats are real as never before. But the good news is that businesses can protect themselves Here, we prepared a list of steps you should take to ensure the security of your corporate devices, finances, and data. 

Top Step for Cybersecurity

Create IT security policies

The policy is a ground you should build upon the security of your network. It will help your IT team in case of attacks, data breaches, and glitches, as well as provide clear instructions for regular maintenance of your company’s cybersecurity. 

As every organization has its unique dynamics and shares data in its own way, a good security policy is a document written considering what data is transferred, through which channels, etc. 

Usually, such a policy includes three principles: confidentiality (how assets are protected from unauthorized entities), integrity (is the modification of assets handled adequately and securely), and availability (is it possible for authorized users to access required assets).

Implement firewalls

Firewalls have come a long way since their first appearance on the scene in the 80s. They are on the frontiers of network protection and are the first to stop suspicious traffic, hackers, viruses, and malware trying to get into your environment. 

Nowadays, there are a few types of firewalls designed for different purposes. They can be presented as hardware, software, or software as a service. As for their functional features, you can find the next firewall options for you:

  • circuit-level gateway;
  • stateful inspection firewall;
  • proxy firewall;
  • next-generation firewall.

So how can a firewall help your business? Here is a set of tasks it performs:

  • stops unauthorized users from entering your internal network;
  • prevents malware from entering and harming your data;
  • protects your data in the cloud.

If you have remote employees, you might need to use VPNs in addition to your firewalls to access your internal networks.

Use a hosted DNS filter

Though a firewall is a useful solution, it can not guarantee absolute protection. Therefore, you might need to implement additional means, for example, DNS filters, which can significantly reduce the danger of malware and ransomware infiltrating your environment through external websites. 

DNS filtering blocks certain websites based on the content displayed there. Every website has a certain domain name. If it is associated with malicious or phishing threats, it will not let users enter it, instead of redirecting them to another page or displaying a 404 error.

Such filters can also block websites according to their category. For example, access to pornographic, gaming, or gambling sites may be blocked by the service provider if the company requires it. 

Apply Identity and Access Management (IAM) 

Identity and access management is a system that allows businesses to manage digital identities granted not only to employees but devices like IoT sensors, robots, or APIs. IAM is a wall between the users and crucial assets of the company. It allows you to double-check the plausibility of users and prevent intruders from getting into your environment with compromised credentials. 

IAM implies the following possible types of user authentication:

  • single sign-on (user needs to enter a login and password);
  • multi-factor authentication (user needs to provide two variables to get access, for example, a password and a code sent to the mobile number);
  • biometric authorization (user can get authorized via a fingerprint or a face scan).

Correctly implemented IAM gives the company full control over user access. Thus, you can constantly monitor those who have access to your corporate network and decrease the likability of data breaches. Moreover, it is possible to grant access to your internal environment to third parties (for example, contractors, partners) without actually jeopardizing your security.

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Protect your email with a hosted spam solution

As we’ve already discussed, there is a high chance that your employees may encounter phishing emails without realizing it can be a scam. With a large number of employees, your company relies heavily on their judgment, which won’t guarantee 100% security. Thankfully, a hosted spam solution can solve this issue. 

This solution analyzes every inbound email that the company receives, and quarantines those that look suspicious or contain potential harmful attachments. 

Hosted filters are cloud-based; therefore, they become more cost-saving and convenient than other types. Usually, you don’t need to worry about hardware performance or maintenance, as it is easy to scale.  

Take care of mobile device protection

Nowadays, smartphones and tablets are as widely used as laptops or desktop computers, but they are not usually considered while building an IT secure environment. That’s unfortunate: for example, in this report, more than a half of respondents state that smartphones are the most vulnerable link in the organization’s IT security.

There are different tools for device protection at the workplace, like using IAM as we’ve already mentioned. Another approach is establishing Mobile Device Management (MDM) and its more profound form Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM). These solutions allow managing and monitoring mobile devices to ensure the security of corporate data. 

With the help of MDM and EMM software, companies can:

  • enable security policies and protocols on the devices;
  • remotely manage dozens of devices;
  • enable encryption;
  • block malicious apps;
  • help with access management and corporate information spreading among different devices.

You can also run preventive application audits to double-check their security and find breaches beforehand. 

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Ensure the security of Wi-Fi 

It’s impossible to imagine an office without Wi-Fi. It has played a crucial part in the growth of mobility and brought more concerns in cybersecurity. Wi-Fi may suffer from cracking attacks (when hackers gain access to the router), DoS attacks (the Wi-Fi is overflown with requests), karma attacks (the hacker tricks you into joining a fake Wi-Fi network disguised as the one you needed, and monitors your actions).

There are some basic suggestions on how to protect your wireless network, like setting a password and changing its name (pre-installed names may display the models of your router, which may give a hint to intruders on how to crack it). As for enterprise purposes, there are more advanced measures:

  • set up enterprise-level encryption with WPA-3 protocols;
  • implement a wireless intrusion detection system (WIDS) and a wireless intrusion prevention system (WIPS) on every network;
  • detect rogue access points through regular scanning and disable them;
  • set an additional Wi-Fi network for guests of your office.

Establish IoT security

The usage of IoT for business is extensive, and it definitely changes many industries for the better. However, as we established, IoT devices expose your environment to possible breaches and hacker attacks. The main measures to prevent that from happening are: 

  • secure IoT devices; when they are not used, always shut them down; keep track of them while you reset passwords or reconfigure any other settings;
  • create an ID system and assign every device with the specific name; as soon as an unauthorized device joins your network, you will be able to detect it immediately;
  • regularly update software and get rid of devices that are no longer supported;
  • use only those devices that could be encrypted; 
  • detach the IoT network from the core one; this way, if the breach happens, the hackers won’t be able to reach sensitive files;
  • use digital certificates and public keys.

Run regular back-ups

Back-up and disaster recovery (BDR) is something you should definitely consider. The data that is valuable for your business processes and activities may be lost due to an external attack or a technical malfunction. Without plan B, it might lead to significant losses.

To determine the frequency of the back-ups, firstly you need to organize your data. More significant files should be saved more often and thoroughly. Additionally, every back-up should be encrypted.  Another good suggestion is to store data offline or even offsite from your usual location. This way, the likability of infecting it with malware decreases. 

It’s also possible to use cloud storage for back-ups, which will give guarantee you a quick recovery.

Educate your employees

Let’s admit: users are the weakest link in the whole IT security system: 95% of cybersecurity breaches are caused by human error. So, even using all preventive measures and efficient software, you can’t be sure that one tiny mistake done by an employee may lead to a big catastrophe. 

Hence, cybersecurity education is a must. Your employees may not be adequately familiar with possible threats and ways of avoiding them. It might also be possible that they don’t even recognize the importance of cybersecurity in the first place. So, regular training should raise awareness of any suspicious content they may encounter. 

Your employees should know how to:

  • recognize the threat and possible infection and proceed with procedure appropriate for this situation, for example, alerting the IT team;
  • select strong passwords and regularly update them;
  • responsibly use email: not engaging with spam and phishing email or links, double-checking the sender and suspicious instructions they may receive (for example, if the email from executive declares an immediate request for money transfer);
  • appropriate usage of corporate accounts in social media;
  • protect their personal devices like smartphones.

You can also run a practice run when the attack is coordinated by your IT department or IT vendor to immerse your employees in a real-life situation to sharpen their skills.

In conclusion

Security is an important part of every IT environment. Unprotected networks, accounts, and devices may lead to bad consequences that may severely harm business profitability, reputation and even call into question its future existence. 

Whether you have your internal IT team or use the services of third-party vendors, you should ask them to take security into account and pay close attention to its maintenance and support. Your data and internal networks should be protected before any accident happens, and the risks should be considered and appropriate measures should be taken.

It is too presumptuous to think that your company is 100% secure — hackers are always working on their skills, and we can’t forgo the likelihood of a human error. However, using the tools described in this article and investing in cybersecurity training will give you a big chance to avoid possible threats and knowledge on how to handle critical situations.    

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A secure environment is a system that is protected from external threats and has the means to control data storage and usage.
The main document you should have while creating a secure environment is an IT security policy. It should include all the procedures that are implemented in the company and has a clear description of actions in case of attack or breach. A security policy should be created on a case-by-case basis.
It might sound quirky, but the end-users of your systems (employees, contractors, partners, or suppliers) pose the biggest danger to security. They might miss the red flags and let the intruders in by ignorance or negligence. Therefore, it’s important to educate the employees on cybersecurity matters and highlight their importance.
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I believe that the tech sphere is one of the most important markets nowadays, therefore I like to dig into new trends and explain their main point in simple words. My interests include how new technologies improve our everyday life, including education, traveling, communication, and workflow. My Linkedin, Twitter
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One comment

Chris Wilford
Aug 05, 2021 at 9:02 AM

Hi, the blog is very useful, creating a secure IT environment is important for both the employees and employers.

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