Our network monitoring system in our own office triggered an alarm one day when some traffic was targeted for Japan. Just like we do for our clients, we block traffic on our own network going to or from dangerous countries such as China, Russia, North Korea, Turkey and Ukraine. We also regularly block traffic from countries that we don’t do business with. We became concerned about our own network security, so we had to figure this out. What could possibly be trying to communicate with Japan?
We figured it could either be a hack attempt, a virus, or ransomware trying to communicate with its publisher. And then there was a very, very small chance that maybe it was something legitimate.
We have a lot of network security tools to help us analyze such things, and so I and my crew sprang into action. We got on the firewall and referred to all our monitoring tools. We had to know what kind of traffic this was. Where exactly was it trying to go? And what piece of hardware or software initiated the traffic?
After some very anxious analysis, things were looking not-horrible. It turns out that the traffic came from a special network we built for testing client equipment, and not our main network. Maybe a client’s machine that was previously hacked was just beginning its dirty work; Maybe some new piece of equipment was distributed with malware; Maybe something else on that network was hacked...but at least we were glad that none of our actual business network was in danger.
Finally, An Answer
It turns out that we had been testing a new American-made wireless access point for a client. It had a chip made by a company in Japan, and it turned out that it was trying to communicate with the manufacturer. Our research showed that it was likely looking for updates.
So it turns out our network security “problem” wasn’t something malicious after all.
Hack or No Hack -- How We Figured It Out
As you can imagine, we have some very advanced tools to analyze our own network’s security, and we know how to use them. In fact, they are the same tools that we use on our clients’ networks, too. But even the best tools will take longer to work if the network isn’t configured properly in the first place, and if the network is cluttered with a lot of needless traffic.
That’s why we always encourage our clients to reduce the amount of excess hardware and software on their networks. Here are some examples:
- Multiple browsers make for multiple headaches. There is really no reason to use a browser other than Google’s Chrome. It’s fast, secure, and already in use by about 60% of internet users. If you’ve also got Firefox, Internet Explorer (or Edge), and/or Safari installed, you’re not only increasing the amount of updates you have to do every week, but you’re also adding to the amount of traffic on your network. (Among the few reasons to use a browser other than Chrome are these: You may need to access some sites that require ActiveX controls that are only available in Microsoft’s browsers. And if you’ve got a Mac, there are some resources that are best accessed via Safari.)
- Do you have software installed on your computer that you no longer use or need? They need updates too. And if you choose not to update the software, if that software communicates over the Internet, there’s a good chance that the older versions have been exploited. You must update your software to keep your network secure.
- Often, your new computer was filled with software at the factory. We affectionately nickname this group of software “bloatware” because all it does it take up space on your computer and interrupt you constantly to register or update. According to PCWorld, “...the real gotchas—the apps that affect how your PC behaves—are those that load at startup, quietly operate in the background, and suck up memory and computing resources.” So watch out for those free Antivirus, photo management, games, shopping apps, and just about any free Trial-ware loaded on your PC designed to get you to buy or subscribe in 30 or 90 days.
- Got old PCs? Get rid of them. Older PCs often have software that can’t be updated. That’s because PCs are made to a certain standard that a particular operating system requires. Newer Operating Systems (Windows 10, for example) are designed to run on newer hardware, and just won’t run on older hardware. Windows XP is now totally unsupported by Microsoft, and is a prime target for hackers and malware, making it a huge network security problem for you.
Why Less Is more
More software means more traffic on your network. More un-needed devices means more un-needed traffic, too. And the more traffic you have, the more bandwidth you’ll need to buy for your business. Similarly, the more traffic going in and out of your network, the more configuration we’ll need to do in order to filter that good traffic in and out of your network.
So from a network security standpoint, less is more: More simple. More stable. More secure.
And beyond allowing your business to run effectively, isn’t that what you’re after? We think so, and that’s why we work so closely with all our clients to learn about their businesses, how they run, and the software and hardware they need to be effective.
We build comprehensive network security strategies based on best practices that allow our clients to operate their businesses without having to worry about their computers and their networks. If you’d like to enjoy that same kind of peace of mind, let’s talk. We can design a custom plan to fit any size business, even yours. Contact us or call us today at 818-913-1355.