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SMB network security tools don't have to break the bank

Malware doesn't care if you're an enterprise or a mom-and-pop shop. The good news is SMB network security tools don't have to cost a fortune.

It seems like an IT manager in an SMB organization can't go a day without having to deal with the latest security or application vulnerability -- or cleaning up the mess after said vulnerability is exploited. Good IT managers didn't get into their line of work to constantly worry about network security tools, but worry about them we must, especially as the winds of change blow across the entire IT industry.

Scott LoweScott Lowe

We're seeing change on a scale and pace that hasn't been seen in the IT industry in a long time. More and more organizations are turning to services like virtual desktops, cloud and strategic virtualization in order to meet their growing business needs. Unfortunately, these changes demand scrutiny, and security concerns will continue to demand the IT manager's time and attention. So, in the spirit of helping IT support the critical issues that affect the business, here are my top five cost-effective SMB security strategies.

Layering network security tools

Layered defense strategies always work best. If one layer fails to stop an attack or a malware infestation, the second layer of security will (with any luck) lock it down. Happily, layered security mechanisms don't require an enterprise-grade budget.

Centralize desktop management

You can't manage what you can't see. If you don't have robust operational insight into your environment, you can't easily optimize that environment for efficiency -- nor can you take every step necessary to secure the environment.

There are a number of products today that allow even small and medium-sized businesses to centralize desktop management, and some of them further extend their management reach into the mobile device realm.

For the SMB, Microsoft has a cloud-based tool called Windows InTune that provides a subset of the functionality of System Center Configuration Manager 2012, but on a monthly subscription basis. Windows InTune is a constantly evolving tool that provides software deployment, endpoint protection and ongoing monitoring for the desktop environment. In addition, it has an evolving feature set around mobile device management.

With the latest release of InTune, Microsoft made the pricing more attractive and switched from a device-centric to a user-centric licensing model, enabling users to manage up to five devices with a single license.

Centralizing desktop management goes beyond the obvious security tools that are in various products, though. With these kinds of tools in place, SMB IT managers can enact policies that do not allow users to install their own software, thus protecting organizations from potential licensing pitfalls and preventing malware from being introduced. By implementing the right network security tools, small business IT managers can take steps to disallow certain activity since user needs can be easily addressed in a central way. -- S.L.

Let's take a look at modern malware scanners, for example. Many affordable firewall products include the ability to scan all incoming network traffic for viruses and spyware. Better yet, these products often include multiple scanning engines. This in and of itself is a layered defense since two or more separate engines scan all traffic. On top of this, continue to deploy anti-malware software at the desktop level, preferably with a product that uses a different engine than the firewall. The same goes for antispam software tools. It doesn't hurt to put traffic through multiple spam filters before the mail is delivered to a user's inbox.

Look for SMB security systems that include intrusion detection and prevention capabilities. These features allow you to have a security monitoring tool on the network that constantly watches for potentially malicious activity and reports back what it finds.

Implement and outsource network security monitoring tools

Network security monitoring tools give servers a daily health check and peruse log files to identify security problems that may arise. Instead of losing time analyzing log files, however, SMB IT managers can outsource log file review and high-end monitoring. Use the operational network security monitoring tools you implement to ensure that network systems stay available, but get expert help in the hard core security space. Log analysis outsourcing partners are trained to find issues in log files and can do it better than a lot of internal staff in your small or medium business.

When cost is everything, free is king

The network security tools I've mentioned here thus far cost money, but there are free SMB security tools that can be used to keep costs down. Personally, I'm a huge fan of Microsoft's free Security Essentials tool for anti-malware scanning. In addition, Windows Server has some tools that can help protect your environment, particularly if you're using Windows Server 2012. DirectAccess, a feature included in Windows Server 2012, can effectively replace a VPN while still making sure that remote endpoints comply with the security policies you have in place. And don't forget about Group Policy. Group Policy has been around for a long time and may be forgotten or dismissed in the stream of vendors pushing the latest tools, but Group Policy can be a life saver by implementing in software some of your organization's written policies. Make sure you explore everything available in your existing tools to see if there are additional security capabilities.

Always read the fine print … and hold vendors accountable

As we move inevitably closer to a cloud-enabled world, IT departments from the smallest of SMBs to the largest of large enterprises must carefully consider and implement cloud-based solutions to meet business needs. As the individual in charge of IT support for a small business, you have a major risk and security management part to play in reviewing and approving technology-related contracts, which generally include different kinds of SMB security clauses. Always thoroughly review these vendor contracts and make sure that the security posture of your intended partner is one that matches your company's needs.

IT managers in the SMB space have a tough job. Many have portfolios similar to CIOs in larger organizations, but have a fraction of the staff and the budget. SMB security tools shouldn't get in the way of the job that needs to be done. Instead, the SMB IT manager needs to look to tools that provide security services while meeting other needs of the organization.

About the author:
Scott Lowe is the founder and managing consultant of the 1610 Group. A former CIO, he's a frequent contributor to TechTarget, TechRepublic and other IT publications. Write to him at editor@searchcio-midmarket.comor, or follow him on Twitter @OtherScottLowe.

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