“I have a firewall and antivirus, so I’m secure, right?” We hear this question from companies all the time. The answer is, that’s a great start, but you’re not quite done. Why not? To find out, let’s take a closer look at these two security measures.
What Does a Firewall Do?
A firewall is a program on your network that acts as gatekeeper, monitoring the inbound and outbound traffic. If you think of your business like a bank, the firewall would be like the security guard stationed at the entrance that prevents unwanted intruders from entering. That sounds like a pretty good system, until you consider a few drawbacks of firewalls.
- Firewalls operate based on predetermined rules. If someone figures out what those rules are, it’s not that hard to outsmart the firewall. In our bank example, your security guard may be instructed to turn away anyone in a red hat. Knowing this, the intruder wears a blue hat instead and is allowed to enter.
- A firewall is a reactive, problem-by-problem solution. It reacts to the immediate threat; it doesn’t look ahead to see the next approaching threat. The effectiveness of your firewall depends on those preset rules to block attacks, so if you’re not proactively watching the latest cyberthreats (and installing regular updates), it can’t fully do its job. This can leave you vulnerable to viruses or other cyberthreats.
- Your firewall protects your office network. If your employees access work emails or files from their personal devices, they can take that data outside of your company network. This has become a bigger threat with the recent pandemic-driven increases in work-from-home arrangements. Pandemic aside, though, if your employees conduct work outside of the office, perhaps using hotel Wi-Fi on a business trip, your company data could now be exposed on an unsecured network—where your firewall can’t protect it.
- Firewalls can’t stop user error. Criminals have a whole gamut of tricks for penetrating your system. Social engineering and phishing attacks in particular can completely sidestep your external defenses by targeting internal users. If one of your users unknowingly clicks a malicious link, your entire network could be shut down.
Does this mean you shouldn’t use a firewall? Absolutely you should; having a security guard with limited power is better than having none at all. We just want to make it clear why businesses shouldn’t entrust the safety of their data solely to their firewall.
What About Antivirus?
Antivirus is software that can prevent, detect, and remove malware. In our banking example, this would be like another security guard that makes regular rounds inside the bank, looking for suspicious activity. There are different kinds of antivirus software:
- Malware signature antivirus: This type scans for the digital fingerprint of a malicious program, known as a signature. The antivirus software comes preloaded with thousands of signatures, allowing the software to quickly identify and dispose of a threat that matches one from its database.
- System monitoring antivirus: This software identifies malware by looking for suspicious or unusual behavior—for example, if a user tries to access an unfamiliar website, or starts using significantly more data than usual.
- Machine-learning antivirus: Machine-learning pools data from multiple antivirus programs to recognize threats that it hasn’t seen before—an advantage over signature-based antivirus.
Given these abilities, why does antivirus not cover all the bases?
- Signature-based antivirus can only protect you against the threats that were programmed into it. It has no defenses against new threats or zero-day exploits.
- There are plenty of free antivirus software programs out there, and, while better than nothing, their database of malware signatures to check against is usually quite small. This drastically reduces the amount of threats it can protect you against.
- Antivirus doesn’t protect users against phishing attacks. A 2020 report by Check Point Research found that 65% of US organizations suffered a successful phishing attack in 2019—that’s two out of every three businesses!
- Most users don’t have antivirus on their phones or tablets, potentially leaving their device—and your network—vulnerable to attack.
- Cybercriminals represent the dark side of human ingenuity. They’re creative, constantly looking for new ways to get around your antivirus and firewall defenses. Even machine-learning antivirus software relies on combinations of data points. If an attacker figures out what combination will alert your antivirus to his presence, all he has to do is change one data point to trick it into marking him as legitimate traffic.
What You Can Do
- Update your firewall and antivirus regularly. Software patches and updates serve to reduce your system’s vulnerability and increase your software’s ability to identify and repel attacks.
- Develop a multi-layer security program. To return to the bank illustration, which bank would you trust with your money? A bank with one aged security guard? Or one with a whole patrol of security guards, cameras, alarm systems, biometric locks, and a dedicated monitoring team? Every security measure you add—SIEM, traffic analyzer, log management, SOC services, etc.—makes your organization that much stronger and more secure.
- Provide regular awareness training for your employees. Modern phishing and social engineering attacks are very sophisticated, and can be hard to identify. Just like your firewall and antivirus need to be updated frequently to stay effective, so does your team. A structured training program, either monthly or quarterly, can help your team recognize and repel attacks on your network.
- Don’t ‘set it and forget it’. Overconfidence or the feeling that you’ve already taken steps to defend your network can lull you into a false sense of security. Criminals are constantly testing new attacks, which calls for constant vigilance on our part to keep our defenses up to date. A third-party firm can conduct a social engineering campaign or penetration test for your organization to identify areas for improvement in your network or team.
FIT Solutions provides IT services, including cybersecurity packages. If you need an IT environment that scales with you, give us a call today at 888-339-5694 or contact us here.