Network hacking occurs when someone breaks into an online infrastructure to access it and all its connected devices. Preventing these instances requires a comprehensive security plan updated regularly to reflect the latest threats.
This article will cover some of the common ways hackers target networks and provide some tips on what you can do to prevent those efforts.
5 common types of network threats
Knowing some frequently seen network threats is the first step in protecting against them. Here are some you must understand to tailor your defenses:
- Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks: DDoS attacks involve using bots to flood a network with traffic and exhaust its resources, resulting in slow loading times, site malfunctions or outages.
- Phishing: Distributing fake but realistic-looking emails to convince victims to provide private information, including their passwords.
- Inside threats: Behaving in intentional or accidental ways that compromise a network while employed by the affected company.
- Ransomware: Deploying malicious software to lock down a network and demand payment from victims for file restoration.
- Outdated products: Relying on old or un-updated operating systems, applications, or other tools, potentially giving hackers vulnerabilities to exploit.
6 best practices to prevent network hacks
With so many different kinds of threats and attacks, protecting your network can feel like an impossible undertaking. While there’s no way to guarantee that nothing will get through, you can effectively solidify your defenses with these six steps.
1. Limit network access
Structure your network access policies to reflect a person’s role or another characteristic specific to them. That way, they can only see and use the files that reflect their work. Restricting access is a practical way to prevent employee errors. It can also limit the damage if a worker falls for a phishing attack and provides their password to a hacker.
A 2021 study of manufacturing workers found each one could access 27,000 files. Moreover, 40% of companies in the investigation had more than 1,000 sensitive files accessible to any employee. Those takeaways show the potentially far-reaching ramifications of having few or no worker access controls.
That said, you have to strike a balance between network security and employee productivity. If workers encounter too many obstacles when trying to access files they genuinely need, many will probably try workarounds — including borrowing passwords from their colleagues. If you’re considering implementing new access control policies or have done so recently, encourage workers to give ongoing feedback. Then, tweak your approach based on their input.
2. Keep network infrastructure devices secured
Network infrastructure devices are the components that facilitate the transfer of information that allows people to use applications, data, and services on your network. Firewalls, servers, routers, and load balancers are examples of products in this category.
Cybercriminals often target these devices because so much of an organization’s data passes through them. There are then plenty of possibilities for what they could do after successfully performing a network attack on an infrastructure device. For example, targeting a router could allow them to monitor, reroute, and block a business’s network traffic.
Protect your network devices by always changing default settings and passwords. Such information is readily available on the dark web. Keeping the devices updated with the latest security patches is vital as well. Otherwise, cybercriminals could exploit known flaws. Investing in network monitoring tools can also help cybersecurity teams spot unusual activity that could indicate a hacker has access.
3. Provide instructions for how to connect to the network safely while working remotely
Remote work is an increasingly common option for many of today’s employees. However, it also broadens the attack surface for cybercriminals. That’s especially true with workers logging into company networks at home or elsewhere.
When workers connect to corporate networks from home, ensure their routers have WPA2 or WPA3 encryption to safeguard information in transit. Ask them to set hard-to-guess passwords for their household routers, too.
Make sure remote workers know public Wi-Fi networks are not sufficiently secure against hackers. Some cybercriminals orchestrate so-called evil twin attacks. They do so by setting up fake Wi-Fi networks. Hackers can then see all the internet activities of anyone who connects to those seemingly legitimate access points.
Remote workers often want to connect from a coffee shop, library, or other public space. When they do, ask them to use VPN tools to encrypt the traffic flowing from their internet connections. They should also be careful about logging into workplace tools or accessing sensitive data from busy places, such as airports. It’s too easy for strangers to watch what they’re doing in those heavily populated locations.
4. Schedule regular cybersecurity training for employees
Cybersecurity experts often say employees are the weakest links in an organization and they could raise the company’s attack risk. However, that’s not necessarily because of malicious workers. Issues often arise because people don’t know how to recognize cyberattack attempts.
It doesn’t help that hackers specifically try to make phishing emails look as believable as possible. Teaching workers some of the telltale signs of phishing attempts is a good idea. For example, these emails often have non-personalized greetings, allowing hackers to target more people with them. The messages often urge immediate action under the threat of disastrous consequences.
Cybersecurity training must happen often and not just when someone gets hired. Hackers frequently update their network attack methods, so workers need the most current details to stay informed. The training should also cover basic but necessary best practices, such as setting unique passwords and never reusing them across websites.
5. Hire ethical hackers to look for network vulnerabilities
Worldwide cybercrime caused $16.4 billion worth of damage daily in 2021. That statistic highlights the need to treat preventive measures for your network as long-term investments. Hiring an outside expert to examine the infrastructure for weaknesses you missed is a wise move.
One way to do that is to use the services of an ethical hacker. They’ll attempt to breach a network with the owner’s permission and knowledge, then report on the identified weaknesses.
Ethical hackers are highly skilled people who understand malicious parties’ tools, methods, and mindsets. Some also find software flaws and inform the manufacturers of those issues. In 2022 alone, ethical hackers found more than 65,000 problems that way.
Using specially designed tools, ethical hackers can discover the remaining network security shortcomings, giving you time to address them before malicious parties find those issues and use them to compromise your infrastructure. Take their advice seriously and always ask questions about their findings if you need further clarification.
6. Keep website plugins updated
A July 2023 report found 71.9% of all websites use WordPress. People like building websites with WordPress because it’s a user-friendly option that doesn’t require strong web development skills. It’s also helpful that people can expand website capabilities by adding plug-ins. That suggests no matter what industry your business is in, it may have at least a few WordPress websites.
Since WordPress is so popular, hackers often exploit outdated or vulnerable plugins on the platform when orchestrating network attacks. In July 2023, cybersecurity researchers warned of a WooCommerce Payments plugin issue that could allow attackers to hack WordPress websites. The plugin has more than 600,000 active installations, giving hackers a broad base of websites to target.
The good news is developers typically create and release patches after hearing about unmitigated flaws in their tools. One of the best and easiest ways to prevent network attacks stemming from plugins is to download and install security patches as soon as they become available.
Bottom line: Keep up with your network hacking defenses
Network attacks can be catastrophic events that severely disrupt workflows, result in data loss, and require significant resources to resolve. However, these best practices will help you reduce the chances of experiencing them.
A final thing to remember is you must frequently revisit your approach to network security and ensure it’s still sufficient. New employees, additional devices, or different workplace policies could all make it necessary to make minor — or major — changes to thwart hackers.
For a comprehensive approach to network security, turn to one of the best network security companies providing a broad range of protective services.