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Computer Network: 10 Things You Should Know About Yours

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A computer network is made up of many different components. Servers, network switches, workstations, laptops, mobile devices, battery backups, the list goes on and on.  When you add in cloud solutions such as online backups, file storage and domain names, it can be overwhelming for business owners to keep track of everything.  That’s why I’ve compiled a list of 10 things you should know about your network, to better assist you with the questions you should be asking yourselves and your IT department.

1. Know Your Physical Inventory

Take the time to compile a list of every piece of hardware equipment you own. This includes desktop pcs, modems, file servers, printers, etc. At the very least, record the manufacturer name, model number, serial number and the physical location of the device. Because technology is constantly evolving and changing update this list yearly. Include additional information such as the purchase date and purchase price if you have it available and if it has any sort of warranty.  Keep receipts with this list, if possible.

2. Know Your Network Configuration

There are many benefits of having a network diagram for your business network. First and foremost a network diagram provides a clear picture what components make up your network and how they interact with each other.  It also gives your network administrators the foundational information to manage your network properly. When it is time to upgrade any piece of the network, the diagram is the first component that should be evaluated so that all parties involved understand your particular configuration.

3. Know Your Password Policy

One of the most critical lines of defense when protecting your network and your business is implementing a password policy. Putting safeguards in place and training your employees is paramount to keeping intruders at bay.  Passwords should be a combination of numbers, letters and special characters and at least 8 characters long.  Be sure to physically write a policy that is provided to your employees upon hire.  Most operating systems have built-in components that enforce these rules. Make it a priority to talk about passwords often with your employees.

4. Know Your Backup System

Having a reliable backup system is more important today than it has ever been.  With the increased spread of malicious software such as CryptoLocker & CryptoWall that will destroy your files with just one click of the mouse, it is often the only way to recover your data without having to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to cybercriminals.  Often times, we will see a business that think they have a reliable backup system, only to discover that it hasn’t been successfully backing up in quite some time. Test your backup on a regular basis, monitor it and verify it is running on a continual basis.  Also, as you add new files and programs to your network, ensure that it is backing up ALL of your files and folders and that it can be successfully restored when needed.  Any IT provider can help you with this critical network component, and often times will recommend a cloud based backup system because of its reliability and easy restoring process.

5. Know Your Disaster Recovery Plan

Having a solid and reliable backup is step number one in creating your disaster recovery plan. Next, be sure to analyze each mission critical component of your network and how you would continue to do business if one or more of these components are no longer available. For instance, most of us rely heavily on the internet to conduct our day to day operations. How might you continue those operations if your internet provider was “down” for an extended period of time? It happens more often than you may realize. By creating a plan and being proactive now you will reduce negative impacts to your business later.

6. Know Your Anti-Virus

Do you have anti-virus installed on all of your network devices? Has the anti-virus software been kept up-to-date with the virus definitions that come out on a daily basis? Many times, we will ask these questions and many times we hear yes, only to discover that the anti-virus the business owner thought they had installed has actually expired, leaving them vulnerable to attack.  Be sure that someone is monitoring your anti-virus software, that it is being updated on a continual basis and performing scans of your computer files. Record expiration dates and create reminders in your calendar to remind you to renew it. If you have a managed IT services provider, ask them to monitor and manage your anti-virus protection for you.

7. Know Your Windows Updates

Microsoft is still the most established operating system for businesses worldwide.  They release updates for security purposes and program enhancements on a regular basis. It’s important that any computer running a Windows platform is updated regularly to protect against threats and to give your employees access to any new features.  In addition, Microsoft will, after a time, stop supporting older technologies and begin to replace them with new.  Using outdated operating systems such as Windows XP, which Microsoft ended support on in April 2014, or Microsoft Server 2003, which has an end date of July 2015, puts your business at a security risk.

8. Know Your Firewall

The purpose of a firewall is to block external internet threats from entering a network, while allowing the internet access you need to conduct business. There are many different types of firewalls and some are much more robust than others. Having a firewall that works for your home, for instance, would not be a good fit for your business. Instead, look for a Business Class Firewall that has features such as Intrusion Detection, that will report suspicious activity or Web Content Filtering that monitors what employees are doing on the internet during company time and restrict the internet sites they can visit.

9. Know When Your Domain Expires

Nearly all businesses today use a domain name (i.e. www.yourcompany.com) for email, websites and network configurations.  The domain name can be renewed on a yearly basis or for an extended number of years.  If businesses allow this registration to expire, it’s possible that another “business” can hijack it and register it themselves and then hold it for ransom. Avoid falling prey to this by ensuring that your domain is renewed on a timely basis.

10. Know how to Physically Protect Your Systems

Living in a very virtual world, it can be easy to overlook physical precautions one can take in protecting their business network.  Look for areas that can be locked, such as a server room door.  Also, be thinking about how you can better protect your hardware by installing surge protectors and battery backups, giving you an extra few minutes after the power goes out to shut down your systems properly.

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Mike Dorr, President

Mike began as a Burgess network engineer in 1998. He later spent 3 years as Five County Credit Union’s Director of IT before returning as an owner in 2006. He lives in Bath with his wife and children and is an active member of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

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