If you think a laptop, an internet connection, and a printer are the only things you need to run your office, think again. In this article, we provide a comprehensive guide on setting up your business network, explaining its main components, as well as some cybersecurity tips to keep your systems up and running.
Do Small Businesses Need Cybersecurity?
Having a small business doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. Most SMB owners think that their business is invisible from cyberattackers simply because they don’t have a lot of assets to offer, but statistics clearly show otherwise:
- Outsourced IT companies reported that 85% of ransomware attacks were targeted towards SMBs
- 22% of SMBs generally close within six months after the attack, due to their inability to repair or replace network systems and cope with lost business data
- 43% of data breach victims in 2019 were small businesses
SMBs are easy targets not because they lack enterprise-level security, but because they fail to implement standard security protocol.
It’s precisely this “I’m safe” mindset that allows hackers to penetrate defense systems and exploit vulnerabilities in a small business network, because malicious attackers know SMBs don’t bother to put up security measures to protect their network and data.
SMB owners who don’t consider cybersecurity as a necessity, and by extension not a very worthwhile investment, tend to feel that way because they think it’s expensive to set-up in the first place.
In reality, establishing a small business network costs anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on how sophisticated the network is – which is nothing compared to the cost of recovering a compromised system.
Main Parts Of A Small Business Network: A Beginner’s Guide
Setting up a small business network doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re running a small to medium-sized office, these components are what you need to safely and successfully conduct business operations.
A router is a device that connects computer networks within the office. There are two set-ups involving a router: a wireless set-up and a connected set-up. Nowadays, offices rely on wireless connections because they’re accessible and easy to install.
What’s the difference between a router and a switch?
A router has two functions: 1) connect your fleet of devices to the internet and, 2) connect your fleet of devices with each other. Another network hardware called a switch can be used to connect devices like printers, servers, and computers with each other. By connecting it to a router, networks from different switches are consolidated into an even bigger network.
Choosing the right router
Business-level routers are different from home WiFi routers in that office routers have anti-spam and anti-virus features, as well as a built-in firewall system. On top of that, some models also can set up a VPN server, which encrypts the data circulating throughout the network. All this means is that your network will be less vulnerable to internet attacks, in a way a standard home router isn’t.
There are other benefits that business-level routers offer that home routers don’t. These include:
- Blocks unsolicited traffic from the Internet
- Prohibits malicious traffic from one computer to affect the entire network
- Some routers allow you to control and manage firewall options on connected devices
While wired networks are harder to penetrate, they can be trickier to install. Internet connection using ethernet cables is more stable but isn’t ideal for businesses with multiple, separate offices. For a small to medium-sized business, purchasing a router with built-in security features is sufficient.
As mentioned, a switch is a network device that allows different devices (computers, fax machines, webcams, printers, surveillance systems) to exchange information. This allows devices to communicate better so your business can function more seamlessly.
Unmanaged VS Managed Switch
An unmanaged switch is a simple plug-in solution with no configuration necessary. Unmanaged switches are a great way to extend your network by allowing multiple devices to communicate with each other. Unmanaged switches are perfect for conference rooms, meeting areas, and printing or faxing stations.
On the other hand, a managed switch gives you more control over your network, particularly in how it connects to the internet.
Managed switches can perform a variety of functions, including increasing transmission speeds without additional hardware, and deciding what data is accessible and by whom.
Since managed switches aren’t very beginner-friendly SMB owners will have to employ an IT head or hire IT management services to maximize the security benefits of a managed switch.
If you want to have control over your network traffic without too much hassle, consider getting a “lighter” managed switch or a smart switch. Alternately, if your business is connected wirelessly, consider getting a cloud-managed switch for virtual access and control over your network.
A firewall is your small business network’s first line of defense against malicious attacks. This device comes in both hardware and software versions, and it’s possible to have both types incorporated in your small business network.
What’s the difference between hardware and software firewall?
Software firewall, such as the one that comes pre-installed on your computers and laptops, only protects that device from malicious attacks. Even then, computer worms can still disable your firewall and creep into your computer network. On the other hand, a hardware firewall protects your entire network from malware. If your business stores sensitive information from clients, we recommend getting both software and hardware firewalls.
Data centers aren’t exclusive to corporations. Small to medium-sized businesses such as local banks, law firms, private clinics, including universities and schools, can all benefit from setting up a server.
A server is essentially a computer that performs complex processes, such as sharing folders and files, database storage and management, and even web hosting.
One of the most common misconceptions is that normal desktop computers are essentially interchangeable with actual servers. This isn’t true for reasons being that:
- Servers are equipped with multiple hard drives and power supplies that can keep the system running even if a part shuts down
- Swappable components allow IT specialists to perform uninterrupted maintenance and repairs, with little to no disruption in the workflow
- Servers can be upgraded and scaled as your business requires more power
- Servers process data a lot faster than the normal desktop computer
- Servers are engineered to run 24/7, compared to desktops that have to be shut down
Will small businesses benefit from a server?
SMB owners tend to think that a server has no place in their small business network, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that majority of these smaller businesses don’t have complex IT departments or don’t have the funds to establish a proper IT infrastructure.
While adding a server to your small business network isn’t entirely inexpensive, the benefits of setting up a server outweigh the initial investment.
As an SMB owner, you have room to decide what kind of server system you want, including whether you want to rent a business server from a provider ($100 to $300 a month depending on your plans) or purchase one to have on-site (costs $1,000 to $3,000 for a small business).
How important a server is to your small business network depends on your daily business operations and how many people are using your system. For instance, a small e-commerce store run by three people can rely on web hosting services and other vendors to run their own operations.
On the other hand, even a small law firm with 10-20 employees and over a hundred clients would need serious processing power and security capabilities, which a physical server can provide.
Any machine that can transmit information through an internet connection is considered an endpoint device. POS terminals, computers, printers, tablets, phones, webcams, are all examples of endpoint devices.
Too many business owners dedicate their entire IT budget to buying the most expensive endpoint devices. However, endpoint devices can only take you so far with cybersecurity. No matter how expensive or high-tech a machine is, software and hardware anti-virus and anti-malware features have to be installed to protect it from hackers and malicious attackers.
Common Security Risks and Threats For SMBs
Knowing possible cybersecurity risks is the first step to protecting your small business network. Listed below are the most common ways hackers infiltrate your small business network:
1) Phishing: Hacking very rarely happens in-person. More often than not, malware enters your network through human error. Phishing attempts involving official-looking but fake websites and harmful links open a small business’ network to potential threats. Training employees to be wary of random emails, texts, and links is just as important as any software upgrade.
2) Social engineering: Clerks, receptionists, and other customer-facing employees are common social engineering targets. This tactic exploits the employee’s weaknesses or laziness to get data they need to access the system. Limiting crucial data access to higher level employees and a multi-factor authentication system for customers are two great ways to prevent social engineering attacks.
3) Accessing unprotected devices: Printers and routers are just two of the devices people rarely think about just because they don’t have web surfing capabilities. But at the end of the day, these devices are still connected to your network and may leak out pertinent information regarding your small business network.
In order to protect your employees, your network, and your clients, a combination of robust IT security and employee education is crucial in safeguarding your small business network.
8 Tips For Small Business Protection
1) Perform Regular Network Audits
Your security is only as strong as your last test. The first step to enhancing your security network is knowing your vulnerabilities. An audit can include checking for possible vulnerabilities (open ports, malicious emails, configuring firewall settings) as well as checking servers, apps, and software for updates.
2) Mask Your SSID
The SSID or Service Set Identifier refers to the given name of a network, including your WiFi. Some businesses clearly announce their network through clear names like “Starbucks-2nd Floor” which provides hackers easy access to your network.
While masking or hiding your SSID isn’t enough of a barrier against the most determined cyberattackers, doing so gives you an added layer of protection.
3) Encrypt Wireless Access Points
Encryption is a common feature for wireless devices, but they aren’t always turned on by default. If you leave it off, hackers can gather data such as the number of devices connected to your network, browsing history, and other sensitive information that cyberattackers can use to launch more sophisticated attacks.
4) Limit File Sharing To Crucial Devices
Seamless fire sharing is one of the pros of having a connected office. With file sharing, workers can move from one workstation to another and have an uninterrupted flow.
Instead of making all files public, consider limiting access and fire sharing capabilities to prevent data breaches. For instance, only keep financial information accessible to the accounting and finance department, and personal records limited to the HR department.
5) Password Protect USBs and Laptops
Devices should be protected both inside and outside the office. Portable hard drives and USBs can be encrypted using third-party encryption software. Encryption prevents thefts from accessing your data from another device, even if they physically have your USB, hard drive, or laptop.
Built-in encryption services offered by Windows and Mac provide some form of protection, but won’t stop advanced hackers from getting into your files.
6) Perform Regular Data Backups
Schedule regular data and system backups. Make sure you have both offline and cloud-based copies. If you’re a medium-sized business, regular data backups must be a priority in your disaster recovery plan.
7) Keep Software Updated
Sometimes the easiest fixes are the ones most forgotten. Software updates aren’t just there to give you new features – they come with security patches that protect your network from discovered vulnerabilities. Make it a point to update operating systems, applications, and other software when they do arrive.
8) Use A VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts the data between your device and the internet. An open connection can leak out information hackers can use to penetrate your system, but a VPN ensures that your device’s identity is protected and your data is safe from prying eyes.
A VPN is a must-add to your small business network if:
- You allow employees to bring their own devices and connect to the business network
- Your employees are mostly remote
- Your employees travel to different locations and connect to different networks
Creating A Small Business Network From Scratch
Small businesses don’t always have small needs. Don’t underestimate your performance and cybersecurity requirements. Scheduling a network audit is the first step to creating a business network that works for you and your team.
Talk to your team and discuss any pain points you have regarding file sharing, security, and processing speed. Discovering your main bottlenecks will help you unlock a small business network that’s perfect for your business goals.