Technology in the digital era has undoubtedly improved many aspects of life, putting a wealth of information—some of it sensitive—at our fingertips instantaneously. Businesses have especially capitalized on digital communication tools and software for efficiency, but it comes with a heaping of responsibility to keep customer data secure. As cyber criminals become increasingly sophisticated, so do the network security measures required to protect all parties.
“Network security for a small/medium business years ago was relatively simple to manage, mostly being that patches were applied and anti-virus was running,” says Bob Puphal, chief information officer at The Lerepco IT Group. “The attack points for evil-doers were primarily desktop PCs behind corporate firewalls, and the risks if the network was penetrated weren’t too bad. Those were the good old days of cyber security.”
Modern network security now must encompass the overall protection, monitoring and management of a computer network and anything connected to it. This can and should include multiple layers of protection for access control, endpoint protection, anti-virus, back-up protection, firewalls, etc.
However, professionals in the industry advise that businesses can’t just limit their protections to their physical business environment. “In reality, due to remote workers and our ever-connected, cloud-enabled, work-from-anywhere (and at any time) productivity changes, which were kicked into higher gear due to pandemic isolation and the hybrid-work model, network security is no longer just what you have in your office network, it is everything that your employees do inside and outside the office environment, at home, in the cloud and while on the move,” explains Russ Abdrakhmanov, president and CEO of neKey.
It’s not a question of if, but when business owners will need to consider outsourcing this aspect of their business. “At this stage of technological maturity, and with ubiquitous use of and connectivity to the internet, all businesses are at the point they need help even if they are not aware,” says Darren Crane, president of DLC Technology Solutions.
“As we work with businesses spanning 10 employees to over 1,000, we find that they start with self-management (through in-house staff or an IT partner) and think little beyond firewalls, wireless passwords and anti-virus. Unfortunately today’s environment is littered with bad actors, some sponsored by nation-states, and those old-school protections are simply insufficient,” he adds.
The several professionals we spoke with say that many companies think they can keep this in-house to help save money. This mindset could put them at risk.
Internal IT departments don’t have the same resources as professional cyber security partners, says Bob Miller, president of Ironside Security. “Every cyber security professional worth their salt reads and digests articles and news on a daily basis. It is a non-negotiable. Just today in the news [it was reported that] data breaches were 17% higher in 2021 than 2020.”
Bryan Hornung, owner of Xact IT Solutions, explains that since business owners are wearing enough hats as it is, training IT staff shouldn’t be another one. “We see businesses struggle with providing education and skill development when trying to manage their own IT staff.”
Working with service providers who are on the forefront of cyber security puts a business at an advantage, says Bryan McGair Jr., director of sales at Corepoint Networks. “When you hire someone for work that needs to be performed in your house, you hire that skilled professional in that specific field. The same approach must be taken when dealing with your cyber security in your organization.”
But how much does this level of protection cost? It depends on how you look at it, says Devin Bender, client relationship manager at PCH Technologies. “Cost is an advantage that most people overlook. When hiring an IT director or IT team, a high salary is usually involved. If you are paying someone $80,000 a year as an IT director, then a $5,000 monthly service fee for outsourced IT services is less costly,” she says. “With the cyber security compliance requirements only getting stricter, it is important that you have industry experts implementing the proper products to keep your company protected.”
Abdrakhmanov emphasizes this point further, saying 24/7 live monitoring is also going to be required to get cyber insurance coverage in 2022.
Despite all of this reasoning, businesses can still experience a bit of sticker shock for outsourcing, which can grow the overall information technology spend for an organization by 20-70%, according to Crane.
This spend has to be weighed against the costs of being down due to a breach, loss of data, not to mention the value of your customers’ trust.
“My advice is to realize the value of protecting your business. You are paying a relatively small monthly cost to protect a very valuable and large asset: your business,” Bender says. “Every second you are down due to an IT issue, you are losing money.”
While a business investigates service providers, they’ll want to check in on a few specifics of their operations, including hidden fees, data protection and whether their philosophy fits with yours.
“Look for a company that will help your business drive forward with predictable results around the technology investments,” Hornung recommends. “Also look for a team that meshes with your core values and will help deliver on your mission. … Your IT provider should have a strong and stable company themselves. … You should also look for verifiable certifications at a company level (not just the techs) that proves the company is capable. The IT industry is still not regulated and anyone selling IT services without a certification should raise a flag.”
“I always say that you look in someone’s eyes, and you can tell if they are authentic. Listen to what they say, and you can tell if they are knowledgeable. Your gut is the biggest strength you have. Lean on that,” says Miller. Don’t trust anyone who gives unrealistic guarantees that any one product will offer absolute protection. “Nothing is fool proof and nothing is guaranteed.”
McGair Jr. says businesses should ask about any monthly or annual subscription fees and find out their specific response time on issues. You must also know that your data is protected, stored in a safe environment and being replicated for built-in redundancy.
Relinquishing network security to an outside company can be a hard pill to swallow at first, much like any task that an owner has to learn to delegate. But once it’s done, an owner can get back to the big-picture details of running and growing their business.
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 12, Issue 2 (Februray 2022).
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