What is a Network Assessment and Why Are They Important?
A network assessment is a comprehensive examination of an organization’s network environment, including its hardware, software, configuration, IT management policies, and more.
These assessments — also sometimes known as network audits — are an important part of a reliable IT management process. The intelligence an assessment provides is key to proactively addressing network problems before they cause downtime. They can also help address cybersecurity backdoors that could lead to ransomware attack and help improve the efficiency of a network.
Any reputable managed IT services provider should begin engaging a new client with a thorough network assessment, then conduct regular follow-up assessment to ensure that your IT support processes are evolving along with your network.
46% of organizations report having experienced an increase in audit requests from their software vendors during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
What’s Included in a Comprehensive Network Assessment?
For businesses that have experienced internal IT staff, running regular network audits should be easy. Any team of senior IT engineers will have the skills and experience to properly assess and document a network environment, then communicate the results of that audit into a report that non-technical staff can understand and act on.
But most small and midsized businesses in Columbus and Cincinnati don’t have those capabilities in house. For businesses that don’t or have never run a network audit in-house before, here are some of the elements that you should check off while performing a comprehensive audit.
- Network Hardware Assessment
First thing is to record every server, switch, router, PC, mobile device, wireless access point, and VPN appliance on your network. During this phase, you’ll want to take note of when the device was last serviced, when it reaches its end of life (EOL). Most businesses will want to use tools to speed this discovery and documentation process.During this phase, you’ll also want to check the environment around your equipment. Is the hardware in your server room properly cabled, for example? Is air flowing around your devices so they can cool themselves in the most efficient way possible?
- Software Assessment
When auditing the software on your network, you’ll want to take note when each piece of software was installed, when it was last patched or updated, how much bandwidth and system resources it consumes, as well as any licensing information. This information is crucial to not just ensuring the stability of your network, but also its security.The software audit should also include any software-defined or virtualized infrastructure that you’re using, such as virtual machines, firewalls, or similar services. More small and midsized businesses are integrating these new services into their network, without understanding that they require maintenance in a similar way to other software products.
- Network Operations Assessment
Network operations processes should also be part of any network audit. How is your staff or IT provider monitoring your network to identify and remediate problems? How often are you upgrading and maintaining your network infrastructure? Having a documented record of those processes provides clarity, accountability, and lays the foundation for gradual improvements to relevant network metrics.
Does this sound a bit overly complicated? Small and midsized businesses who don’t have the time or IT management expertise to do a proper audit benefit from working with a managed IT service provider like Astute Technology Management, who can help you navigate the entire network audit process.
Did you know that 80% of companies who have had a security breach could have prevented it with a simple software patch of configuration change.
The Network Security Audit
There’s an important type of network assessment that probes far deeper into your network than the standard audit does: the network security audit.
With phishing and ransomware now chronic sources of instability and invasion, organizations need to maintain up-to-date awareness on if their cyber defenses are ready to defend against the latest threats. The network security audit is the best way to help you determine that. On top of the items discussed above, a security audit will dig deep into the following areas:
- Data security
Sensitive data on your network, including client or vendor information, credit card or billing data, and other forms of personally identifiable information (PII) are a top target for hackers. Having an inventory of where that data is stored in your network is the first step toward developing a strong cybersecurity posture.
- Security Controls
You need to audit and maintain firewalls, virtual private networks, two-factor authentication (2FA) systems, and other security controls properly to ensure that they’re protecting your organization.
- Routers and Firewalls
In today’s multi-vendor world, where cloud systems, on-premise systems, and remote workers are all fluidly interacting with your network resources, you should regularly review firewall logs and make appropriate adjustments to their rule and policies, so they reflect your security priorities.
- Network Access Controls
There are many questions involved here, which includes: Are new devices connecting to your network being authenticated properly? When is your network requesting users to enter their credentials? How are the password on key workstations and servers being managed? Have you disabled default accounts on all your systems?
An audit of these controls may also extend to your acceptable use policy (AUP) and cybersecurity awareness training materials, to ensure that your team is armed with the latest cybersecurity intelligence.
Physical Network Security
For businesses that have HIPAA, PCI-DSS, or other regulatory compliance requirements, a network security audit will have to also include the physical premises around your network devices. This means protecting your endpoints from physical access, ensuring monitors displaying PII are properly obscured from the public, and generally keeping your IT equipment away from unauthorized physical access.
Did you know that 30% of all data breaches involve an internal actor?
How Often Should You Run a Network Assessment?
There are many compelling reasons why businesses should be running regular network assessments.
The first reason is that your network is highly dynamic. Every day your business will create or delete data, onboard new applications and employees, land new clients, or other activities that affect your technology. Without a clear sense of what changes are occurring, your IT team — whether in-house or an outside IT partner — will have no idea how to best support your network.
So, how often should your business conduct a network assessment? The Astute Technology Management team recommends that you work with a managed IT service provider to perform an assessment at the very least once every year. For organizations in regulated industries, like healthcare or financial services, then we recommend a compliance and security audit every 6 months, at least.
A Managed IT Service Provider with 20 Years of Network Assessment Experience
Is your network overdue for an audit? The experts at Astute Technology Management have been assessing, managing, and supporting business technology in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland for over twenty years. Have a question for our experts? Reach out any time.