For years now, the internet has been riddled with network security software tools aimed at business owners that want to do it themselves.
Anti-virus software, malware blockers, firewalls, encryption applications – the list goes on.
For business owners, particularly of small and medium-sized businesses, the temptation is obvious. These tools, often cheap or free, might allow you to take your organisation’s security into your own hands. But is it the best strategy?
Let’s take a look at the challenges that accompany a DIY network security program, as well as some effective alternatives.
The strengths and weaknesses of DIY network security
The DIY approach can help a business contain costs, at least in the short term. That’s the most substantial argument in its favour. Many tools are open source, free or relatively inexpensive.
But as the old adage says, you tend to get what you pay for. Some DIY security tools are effective, legitimate tools designed for use by professionals. But many more are shoddy or outright malicious.
One of the great ironies of the security software world is that a ton of malware masquerades as anti-malware. If a tool is free, that may be because its builder has ulterior motives.
Even if your network security toolkit is made up of software that is all completely aboveboard, you’ll need to ensure that it correctly addresses your security requirements.
Furthermore, you’ll need to continuously evaluate your security strategy, watching for new bugs, vulnerabilities, and hacks.
Even if you succeed on all of these points, some attacks on your network may be too subtle for your software to detect.
If this happens, hackers may be able to siphon your data and even leverage your network in other attacks for a long time without you noticing.
To be more effective, you may want to seek the perspective of a security expert both as you implement your network security strategy and on an ongoing basis.
While it may seem more cost-effective to use DIY tools, a security breach can lead to major costs: loss of consumer trust and ultimately loss of business. Not to mention fines for non-compliance with rules like HIPAA/HITECH and PCI.
Security is a sound investment that might not show an obvious short-term return, but helps keep your business on firm footing over the long run.
So what are the alternatives to a DIY network security program?
Ultimately, there are two strong options. The first is to hire an in-house security expert (or team, for larger businesses).
In-house experts will help ensure that you’ve identified the correct security goals and tools for your organisation, meeting all relevant compliance guidelines and minimising risk efficiently.
With a dedicated expert on your team, you’ll have someone on hand to keep up with new developments in the security world, including new bugs and attack strategies, as well as updates to industry regulations and guidelines.
They can continuously patch and update your systems to keep them current, and identify any weaknesses in your security strategy.
Even more importantly, a security expert gives you human eyes on your network. When it comes to network security, there are many subtle signs of attack or intrusion that software isn’t good at catching: red flags that require contextualisation, follow-up research and appropriate response.
These signs might be as mundane as repeated failed login attempts to the network, or spikes in traffic at odd hours.
Most businesses experience thousands upon thousands of these ‘security events’ per month. Some turn out to be harmless; others are the first signs of hackers at the gate.
An in-house security expert can evaluate these events and take or recommend the appropriate course of action.
The second alternative to the DIY approach is similar to the first, also putting human eyes on your network – but in this strategy, you turn to a third-party service provider for a managed security solution.
This approach provides a strategic balance of cost and risk-reduction. Many smaller or medium-sized businesses may not be able to afford putting full, around-the-clock network security teams on their own payrolls. But third-party managed security solutions provide the same benefits.
Among the key advantages is that a managed security solution can ensure your network is being watched for signs of attack or intrusion 24/7 – not just during business hours. This helps you identify and respond to threats as they occur, no matter when they occur.
Of course, you should verify that a prospective third-party provider is reputable before engaging their services.
A managed security services firm should have a track record of success and demonstrated knowledge of up-to-date security practices and requirements. Some industry associations may have lists of trusted or recommended providers.
What’s best for your business?
A third-party security provider can be an effective solution to give your business a stable, comprehensive network security toolkit. The same is often true of an in-house security expert.
One of the biggest problems with the DIY approach is that, by its very nature, it places disproportionate emphasis on the preventative element of network security.
Once you’ve selected and installed your security software, there is little you can do on your own without extensive information security training. And this leaves you vulnerable.
Prevention is important, but it’s not enough. If hackers or malicious software manage to breach your defenses and you don’t catch them, your business is left powerless and in the dark.
This is why organisations must balance preventative measures with strong detection efforts and response plans.
Careful, continuous, and expert monitoring of your network will help you know as soon as your systems are under attack. And a strong response plan will help you repel attackers, limiting the damage and strengthening your defenses against future breaches.
For organisations considering the most appropriate approach to security, it is useful to think about the sensitive data in their possession and what kind of network security strategy aligns most closely with their needs.
With robust efforts in prevention, detection and response, a business can prevent unnecessary costs in the future and inspire confidence among its consumers.
Sourced from Jason Riddle, LBMC Managed Security Services