'Good Enough' Security: Network Security on a Shoestring Budget - Page 3

 By Beth Cohen
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Seven Highly Effective Security Habits

Is there anything you can do in the face of these frightening statistics?

Fortunately, yes. If you avert one security break by implementing a good firewall and virus protection, the productivity savings will more than pay for the cost of the system. That is money that you can bank! Here's a handy list of things that you can do to prevent the vast majority of attacks. Most of these items don't cost a dime except for the time involved.

  • Create a solid and understandable company security policy, and enforce it. Work with your company's legal and HR departments to ensure that it is legal and fits with your corporate culture. Don't make it too onerous to administer.

  • Educate your users on the security basics. Teach your users about strong passwords and not leaving their machines open when they are away from their desks. The Internet is not secure and neither is e-mail, so don't send company confidential materials out over the Internet without taking precautions. One major company makes the computer security rules part of their standard HR policies that each employee is required to sign. They fire anyone who violates it more than twice. While it might seem draconian, they do have a VERY high compliance rate.

  • Install a good virus protection system on ALL computers on your network and maintain it. Modern anti-virus software is available by subscription and has built-in auto update features, so your administration headache is minimized. Install it as part of the standard company employee system with all the automated features already on. Insist that all employee-owned machines have current virus protection before they can be connected to your network.

  • Install a firewall and check your logs periodically. You have a choice of using a managed service or purchasing a firewall appliance. The appliance is cheaper, but make sure to sign up for the subscription update service or be diligent in maintaining the system.

  • Remove ALL unessential services and applications on your servers. After e-mail, this is probably the biggest security vulnerability. This minimizes the likelihood that, if a new security hole is discovered, a cracker would be able to exploit it because you forgot you were running that service.

  • Keep all your servers updated with ALL the latest security patches. Minimizing the machine's applications also makes it easier to maintain, since you can focus on ensuring current patches on just the services that you do provide and not need to keep current on all security holes.

  • Never keep any of the manufacturer's default settings. This item trips up more systems managers than care to admit. Immediately change ALL the default settings on your systems as you install them. The crackers know all the holes better than you do.


In the new hyper-security conscious world, does spending lots of money on computer security make sense? If you have the budget and are in an industry where it is critical, then the answer is an absolute yes. But if you are like the rest of us, squeezed for time, resources, and funds, then you can apply the principles of "good enough" computer security. It might not prevent a massive attack if you are targeted, but it will prevent 90% of your problems while keeping your finance department happy. In today's environment, what more can you ask for?

» See All Articles by Columnist Beth Cohen

This article was originally published on May 29, 2003
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