What Is a Network Security Assessment and Why Does My Business Need One?

You already know that hoping “it’ll never happen to us” isn’t a viable security approach. So what can you do to protect your company from cyber attacks and security breaches? Big or small, your company can start by regularly performing a network security assessment. 

A network security assessment is an analysis of your network security measures to identify potential vulnerabilities in the system. 

Why do you need a security assessment?

One look at the news and you can see why it’s necessary to be vigilant when it comes to network security. Companies like Uber, Home Depot, and Facebook are just a few of the companies recently suffering security breaches. In those cases alone, over 150 million accounts were compromised. And according to this article by Matt Powell, half of attacks are targeted at small businesses. 

A security assessment does two things. It shows how well your organization has implemented security best practices, and it gauges how well you’ll be able to prevent or withstand an attack. Once you identify the weak spots in your system, you can make a plan for remediation. Frequent evaluation of your network security allows you to stay on top of new threats and protect your company’s data.

Though your exact review will be unique to your system, there are a few basics a general risk assessment will include. 

Evaluating compliance requirements

It’s vital to understand which laws and regulations apply to your business and the types of data you manage. Non-compliance with government standards can have costly consequences. Some of the most far-reaching of these include the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI/DSS)

A security assessment helps ensure that you’re following compliance requirements. That way, you’ll stay in good standing and be prepared for upcoming audits.

Identifying business needs and processes

Identifying your business needs and processes is key to understanding what needs to be protected. Narrowing these down can be tricky because it requires a clear understanding of what matters and what does not. Try asking these questions to find out:

  • What are your most valuable assets?
  • What policies are in place to protect those assets?
  • What are your current areas of vulnerability? 
  • What policies are in place for ongoing training, identifying weaknesses, and remediation?
  • What is the impact to the business if one of these weaknesses is exposed?

From here you can review organization policies and procedures to help determine what processes are currently in place. Of course, if there aren’t any in place, now is the time to start talking about which ones need to be created. 

Network Security Risk Venn Diagram

Understanding vulnerabilities

Security threats can come from outside and inside your network perimeter. That’s why a thorough examination of your network environment must include a review of the following (and more):

  • asset vulnerabilities
  • patching on network devices
  • secure protocols used
  • third-party access 
  • user training and security habits
  • physical security

Of course, knowing the vulnerabilities means little without understanding their potential impact. It’s a good idea to rank findings on a low-to-high matrix that categorizes each vulnerability, explains its associated risk, and assesses its chances of being exploited. 

A final report

When the assessment is complete, you (or whoever is doing it for you) will generate a report. The report contains all the findings of the assessment, so you can create a plan for fixing problem areas. For example, let’s say the report reveals activity on the network at atypical times. You would investigate and identify the behaviors causing the anomaly, and then update your system processes to remediate the problem. 

Any remediation plan has to take into account cost, feasibility, and priority. Then you can move forward with implementation and monitoring—until the next assessment. Obviously, things that have been flagged as high priority should be corrected first. Remember, regular network security assessments allow you to stay current and better protect against security threats. 

Solutions to consider

Whether you’re a small business with limited resources or a large company with plenty of capable staff, there are several solutions out there to help you get the right security in place. 

A security consultant, or partner, works to understand your network environment and then recommends products based on your unique needs. A customized solution like this can help keep you from overspending on the wrong products, misdiagnosing network problems, or underestimating your security needs. 

You can usually hire consultants as-needed or around the clock. Just remember to do your homework. Although several companies claim to be able to set up a thorough security assessment, the real challenge is in interpreting the results, discerning threats, and initiating remediation. So make sure the consultant you hire is security-focused and can provide the proper follow-up.  

If you have the manpower and expertise, there are tools out there to help you perform a thorough network evaluation. One tool typically used by medium-to-enterprise-sized business is a SIEM, or log aggregator, that continually gathers logs in preparation for them to be scanned for threats and escalated as needed.

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