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How secure is your network? Do you have IT security covered from every angle? Many companies may not think they’re a target, but breaches and attacks are becoming more and more common. And they can happen to anyone, often with devastating consequences. From individuals to small startups to enterprise organizations, network security should always be a top priority for anyone. Security threats are always changing, and data security has to evolve along with it.

What are some of the most important network and IT security skills you should look for when engaging a security expert? To help you get started, we asked Upwork’s head of information security, Teza Mukkavilli, to name the top ten security skills that businesses need to keep their digital assets safe.

New technology opens up new types of security threats

“Security is of paramount importance given the pattern of how more and more products are getting embedded into our daily lives, from smartwatches to driverless cars,” says Teza. 2015 was definitely the year of the Internet of Things (IoT)—and of IoT-related hacks. That’s because connected devices create new conversations—between devices, interfaces, private infrastructures, and the cloud—which in turn creates more opportunities for hackers to eavesdrop. This has driven a demand for skilled security experts to build stronger, less vulnerable networks.

“Recent trends have shown that ransomware attacks are increasing in frequency and in severity. It’s become a booming business for cyber thieves and hackers, who gain access to your network and hold your data and systems hostage. In recent months, hospitals, school districts, police departments, organizations, and several individuals have fallen victims to these types of attacks and had to either pay the ransom, or risked losing important data,” says Teza.

So, what skills can help you secure your network and prevent this new wave of modern cyber attacks?

Note: Many of these skills fall under the umbrella of network security—to learn more about network security, what it entails, and how it’s different from internet, endpoint, and application security, read our article Inside Network Security: How to Protect Your Network from Every Angle.

1. Security engineering

“Thinking about security from day one and building security defenses is critically important,” advises Teza. Security engineers aim to protect a network from threats by engineering networks from the ground up to be safe, dependable, and secure. Security engineers design systems that protect the right things in the right ways. If a software engineer’s goal is to ensure things do happen (i.e., “click here, and this happens”), a security engineer’s goal is to ensure things don’t happen by designing, implementing, and testing complete and secure systems.

Security engineering covers a lot of ground, and includes many measures—from regular security testing and code reviews to creating security architecture and threat models—to keep a network locked down and safe from a holistic standpoint.

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2. Encryption

If security engineering protects the network and physical assets like servers, computers, and databases, encryption protects the actual data and files that are stored on them, or travel between them and the internet. Encryption strategies are crucial for any companies using the cloud, and are an excellent way to protect hard drives, data, and files that are in transit—in email, browsers, or on their way to the cloud.

In the event that data is intercepted, encryption makes it difficult for hackers to do much with it. That’s because encrypted data is unreadable to unauthorized users without the encryption key. Encryption should not be an afterthought, and should be carefully integrated into your network and your existing workflow so it’s most successful.

3. Intrusion detection and breach response

If there are suspicious-looking actions occurring on the network—like someone or something trying to break in—intrusion detection will pick up on it. Network intrusion detection systems (NIDS) are constantly passively monitoring network traffic for behavior that seems illicit or anomalous, and flagging it for review. NIDS not only block that traffic, but they also gather information about it and alert network administrators.

But despite all this, breaches still happen. That’s why it’s important to engage a breach response expert to come up with a data breach response plan. You’ve got to be ready to spring into action with an effective framework. The framework can be updated as often as you need to—for example, if you have changes to network components or new threats arise that need to be addressed. A solid breach framework will ensure you’ve got resources in place and an easy-to-follow set of instructions for sealing the breach and what follows, whether that’s getting legal assistance, having insurance policies, data recovery plans, or notifying any partners of the issue.

4. Firewall development

What about keeping unwanted visitors and malicious software off your network? When it’s connected to the web, a good way to make sure only the right people and files are getting through is with firewalls: software designed with a set of rules to block unauthorized users from accessing your network. They’re excellent lines of defense for preventing data interceptions and blocking malware from entering your network, and they also keep important information from getting out like passwords or confidential data.

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5. Vulnerability analysis

Hackers will often actively or passively scan networks for holes and vulnerabilities. Security analysis and vulnerability assessment professionals are key players in identifying potential holes and closing them off. Security analysis software is used to hone in on any vulnerabilities in a computer, network, or communications infrastructure, then each is prioritized and addressed with “protect, detect, and react” security plans.

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6. Penetration testing

Vulnerability analysis (identifying potential threats) can also include deliberately probing a network or system to find any weaknesses, or penetration testing. It’s an excellent way to safely identify vulnerabilities ahead of time and devise a plan to fix them. Whether there are flaws in the operating systems, issues with non-compliance, application code, or endpoint problems, a network administrator skilled with penetration testing can help you locate these issues and patch them so you’re less likely to have an attack.

Penetration testing involves running either manual or automated processes that “break in” to servers, applications, networks, and even end users’ devices to see if it’s possible, and where the break-in was able to occur. From this, they can generate a report for auditors as proof of compliance. It also provides a prioritized list of vulnerabilities to keep on the radar.

A thorough penetration test can save you time and money by preventing costly attacks in weak areas you may not know exist. System downtime can be another annoying side effect of malicious attacks, so regularly running penetration tests is a great way to head off problems before they arise.

Penetration testing shouldn’t be one-and-done—it should be relatively ongoing. You may also want to engage a penetration testing specialist on specific occasions, for example when you open a new office location, add security patches as they are issued, or make any big changes to your network infrastructure.

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7. Security information and event management

There’s an even more holistic line of defense you can employ to keep eyes on every touchpoint: security information and event management (SIEM). SIEM is an all-encompassing approach that monitors and gathers any details about IT security-related activity that may happen anywhere on the network, whether that’s on servers, endpoint devices, or security software like NIDS and firewalls. SIEM systems then compile and make that information centrally available so you can manage it and analyze those logs in real-time, and identify any patterns that stand out.

These systems can be rather complex to set up and maintain, so it’s important to engage a skilled SIEM administrator.

8. Cybersecurity: HTTPS, SSL, and TLS

The internet itself is considered an unsecure network—a scary truth when we realize it’s essentially the backbone for how we give and receive information. To protect us against unwittingly sharing our private information all over the web, there are different standards and protocols for how information is sent over the internet. Encrypted connections and secure pages with HTTPS protocols can conceal and protect data that’s sent and received in browsers. To create secure communication channels, internet security pros can implement TCP/IP protocols (with cryptography measures woven in), and encryption methods like a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), or a Transport Layer Security (TLS).

Anti-malware and anti-spyware software are important to have installed and updated regularly. They’re designed to monitor incoming internet traffic or malware like spyware, adware, or Trojan viruses.

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9. Endpoint Threat Detection & Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

“Individuals can prevent ransomware attacks by following good security practices like having antivirus software, the latest OS, and backing up data to the cloud and a local device. However, it’s a different ball game for organizations who have multiple personnel, systems, and facilities which are susceptible to attacks,” shares Teza.

Your actual users—along with the devices they use to access your network (e.g., mobile phones, laptops, or mobile point-of-sale systems)—can often be the weakest link in the security chain. An endpoint security expert can help prevent data loss and theft where it most frequently enters and leaves the network: with users. An endpoint security specialist may help to implement various levels of protection, such as authorization technology that grants a device access to your network.

10. Data loss prevention (DLP)

Within endpoint security is another important security strategy: data loss prevention (DLP). Essentially, this encompasses the steps taken to ensure no sensitive data is sent from the network—whether on purpose, or by accident. You can implement DLP software to monitor the network and make sure authorized end users aren’t copying or sharing private information or data they shouldn’t.

In Conclusion

Protecting your network isn’t a one-time thing—it’s an ongoing exercise in preventative measures, updates, patches, and event management. So, what can you do and who should you hire to get your network locked down? A great place to start is to enlist the help of a security expert to assess your network for weaknesses and help you devise a plan of attack.