Cybersecurity is evolving all of the time. As cybercriminals craft innovative ways to breach systems, it’s imperative that you stay several steps ahead of them.
This is the case irrespective of the server you use. In this blog post, we’re going to focus on Windows Servers in particular. After all, they’re very popular with businesses today.
Also, worryingly, Microsoft vulnerabilities hit an all-time high in the latest Microsoft Vulnerabilities Report, with 1,292 vulnerabilities reported in total.
With that being said, in this blog post, we’ll explore some of the different strategies you can use to protect your Windows Server against modern-day cyber threats, ensuring its smooth operation over time.
1. Understanding the Cyber Threat Landscape for Windows Servers
The first step in defense is understanding who or what you’re coming up against. You wouldn’t charge head-first into a battle without knowing who you’re fighting, right?
Four of the main threats that Windows Servers face include:
- DDoS Attacks
- Zero-day Exploits
These attacks involve using malicious software, which holds your data hostage. Your data is encrypted and then the attacker will demand a ransom for it to be released.
However, paying the ransom doesn’t guarantee you’ll get your data back! A lot of hackers won’t restore the data no matter how much you pay them, so do keep this in mind.
DDoS attacks involve your server becoming overwhelmed by a flood of traffic, leading to service disruptions or complete shutdowns.
Stopping DDoS attacks is vital, otherwise you could find yourself being unable to continue with your daily operations.
Malware is malicious software that’s designed to infiltrate and damage your server or steal critical data.
These are attacks that exploit vulnerabilities unknown to the software provider, making them exceptionally dangerous.
By recognizing these threats, you’ll be in a much better position to defend against them!
2. Start with the Fundamentals
Microsoft is diligent about releasing security patches for known vulnerabilities. Ensure you consistently update your server’s OS and its applications.
Make the most of automatic updates for this. You can also perform manual updates by setting periodic reminders for yourself.
It’s such a simple step but it’s one that can thwart a whole host of threats.
We also recommend using firewalls too. A firewall will scrutinize incoming and outgoing data, promptly flagging or blocking anything that appears dubious.
3. Adopt Safe Network Practices
The importance of network security cannot be overstated. As businesses continue to digitize, network security practices become even more pivotal.
It’s vital to make sure that external threats cannot disrupt data transfer and communications. So, how can you achieve this?
- Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
- Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS)
- Network Segmentation
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs):
Imagine you’re sending a confidential letter through a post office. Without any protection, anyone could open and read its contents.
Now, imagine if that letter was sent inside a tamper-proof metal case, locked and requiring a special key to open.
This is the essence of a VPN.
The main benefits of using a VPN are as follows:
- Encryption – VPNs function by creating a protected tunnel for you to transmit data. What this means is that even if someone intercepts the data, deciphering its actual contents becomes a Herculean task.
- Mask your location and IP – VPNs also hide the actual location and IP of the user.
- Remote access security – Do you require remote access to your servers? If so, VPNs are a must. They guarantee that when employees access servers from different locations, they do so using a secure and encrypted connection.
Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS):
An Intrusion Detection System (IDS) can protect your server in many ways.
One of the main features is real-time monitoring. Your IDS will continually scrutinize the data flowing in and out of your network. This 24/7 oversight ensures immediate detection of any irregularities or suspicious activities.
Most of the modern systems also come with machine learning algorithms that understand your network’s ‘normal’ patterns. By understanding this, the system can then quickly detect any deviations, potentially pointing to malicious activities.
Upon detection of any suspicious activity, IDS don’t just passively record it. They actively alert system administrators, allowing for swift actions to be taken to rectify or investigate the anomaly.
If you don’t segment your network and a hacker gets access, they have access to everything!
However, if an intruder gains access to one segment, the damage is contained within that segment, preventing a full-scale compromise of the entire network.
Also, you can tailor your security efforts. Different segments can have different security levels based on the sensitivity of the data they contain. For instance, a segment containing financial records can have stricter access controls than a segment for general communication.
4. Streamline User Access Control
The next step is to streamline user access control. There are three steps we recommend following to do this effectively:
- Limit user permissions – Make sure you only provide users with access that’s essential to their roles. This will help you to reduce potential damage from compromised accounts as much as possible. For example, there’s no reason why a graphic designer would need to have access to view HR records.
- Two-factor authentication (2FA) – By using 2FA, you’re not relying solely on passwords. Instead, there’s an additional layer, such as a code being sent to the user’s phone. This sets the bar for access a lot higher.
- Carry out regular audits – You should routinely analyze user activity so you can detect any anomalies. This proactive approach can often catch compromised accounts before significant harm occurs.
5. Fortify Your Data
Now, it’s time to fortify your data. We like to start with regular backups. Think of backups as your safety net. Regularly scheduled backups ensure that, in the dire scenario of data loss or ransomware attacks, you’re not cornered into making regrettable decisions.
Next, data encryption is a must. Encrypting sensitive data means even if malicious actors steal it, they’re left with indecipherable gibberish. It’s akin to having a safe within a safe.
Finally, don’t overlook the importance of regular vulnerability assessments. Leveraging tools like Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer can spotlight vulnerabilities, helping you patch them before they’re exploited.
6. Be Vigilant so You Can Spot Threats
Unfortunately, cybersecurity is not a one-time thing. You need to continuously be on the ball!
Start by monitoring server logs. Akin to checking CCTV footage, examining server logs can reveal unauthorized access attempts or suspicious patterns that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Next, educate your team! This is key, as a lot of cyber breaches happen due to mistakes made by employees. You cannot expect your employees to know how to act securely; you’ve got to teach them.
Ensure your team can recognize and report potential threats like phishing emails. Equip them with knowledge, and they become an asset in your defense strategy.
It’s a good idea to make sure that you have a point of contact in your team so employees can go to this person if they spot an issue or are worried about something in your network.
7. Prepare for the Unseen
Last but not least, you must always be prepared. You never know what’s around the corner, and cyber threats are changing all of the time.
Here are three things you can do to make sure you’re always ready for anything that may come your way:
- Put together an incident response plan – Preemptively strategize how you’ll react to a security breach. Having a clear procedure reduces chaos during crises, potentially limiting damage. Rather than everyone running around, stressed, they’ll know the exact next steps, and this is important.
- Disconnect Affected Systems – If there is an issue, you need to work quickly to isolate the parts of your network that are compromised. This can stop the issue from impacting other parts of your network. It’s all about making sure you minimize the damage so that it doesn’t get worse.
- Notify stakeholders if there are any issues – Last but not least, transparent communication is crucial. While it can be tempting to bury your head in the sand, it won’t make the problem go away. You need to inform relevant parties so they can take protective actions or make informed decisions.
8. Conduct Regular Security Training
A lot of business owners don’t realize that the biggest threat to their security is their employees.
This is not to say that you’ve got malicious employees working for you, waiting to steal your data – although instances of this have happened.
The reason why employees are viewed as a risk is because a lack of security training can mean they’re using your computer systems in a risky way without even realizing it.
So, you need to make sure employees receive regular training. This shouldn’t be viewed as a one time thing. After all, just as technology and cyber threats evolve, so should your security awareness and training programs.
Regular training sessions help keep your team updated on the latest threat landscape and best practices in cybersecurity.
Topics could include:
- How to spot the signs of a phishing email
- Creating secure passwords and recommended password practices to follow
- Proper handling and storage of sensitive data
If you foster a culture of continuous learning, you can make sure that every member of your team becomes an informed line of defense against cyber-attacks.
9. Embrace Multi-layered Security Solutions
When you consider just how sophisticated cyber attacks are today, a single security solution is simply not enough.
The key is to layer your defenses so that if one measure fails, you have another ready to protect your assets.
Some of the different layers you can add to your security plan include:
- Web Filtering
- Endpoint Protection
- Email Security Solutions
- Network Access Controls
Not every part of the internet is safe. Some websites are breeding grounds for malware or are designed specifically to trick users into giving away sensitive information.
By implementing web filtering, you can regulate sites that users in your network access.
This is especially useful for blocking sites that are known to host malicious content.
Additionally, modern web filters can categorize websites based on content. This means that your administrators can enforce more specific browsing policies, for example, you may device to block social media during work hours or restrict access to certain entertainment websites.
Every device that connects to your network is a potential entry point for cybercriminals.
Endpoint protection is important because it goes beyond just safeguarding desktop computers.
When you consider how widely mobile devices are used today, and then you add in the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s not hard to see that the range of endpoints has hugely expanded.
To protect all of these endpoints you need specialized security software on the devices themselves, with monitoring tools so signs of malicious activity can be spotted.
Email Security Solutions:
Emails remain a favorite tool for cyber attackers. From phishing schemes to malware-laden attachments, the risks are abundant.
An email security solution does more than just filter out spam. Advanced solutions now use machine learning and pattern recognition to identify potentially harmful emails even if they come from a previously unknown source.
Network Access Controls:
Not all threats come from the outside. Sometimes, the danger may arise from a device already within your network.
Maybe it’s a compromised smartphone or a visitor’s laptop infected with malware, for example.
Network access control solutions help you manage which devices can access your network. You can ensure that only devices which meet your security standards are allowed connectivity.
10. Keep Up-to-Date with Industry Developments
Last but not least, staying updated with the latest trends in cybersecurity and the specifics related to Windows Server is crucial.
Cyber threats are dynamic, and so the strategies to combat them must also be dynamic.
- Join industry forums and groups
- Attend webinars and conferences
- Subscribe to trusted cybersecurity news sources
Protecting Your Windows Server from Cyber Threats
Cybersecurity isn’t a one-time investment but an ongoing commitment. Because of this, you need a robust, multi-tiered defense strategy. This can help you to minimize risks and ensure that your Windows Server can operate smoothly.
Prioritizing security isn’t just about protecting your server; it’s about safeguarding your enterprise’s future.