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An Introduction to Business Networks 101

June 2nd, 2017


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If you’re exploring getting into network administration, either for your personal education (such as a college degree) or as a career change, you’re in the right place.  When it comes to understanding the more complex aspects of network administration, such as cyber security, it’s best to start at the beginning.

In order to learn how to stop hackers from making their way through your network, you first have to understand the basics.

This is the first in a series of educational posts to help you build up a foundation of knowledge on a subject that we here at Thycotic are deeply involved with: preventing cyber attacks. However, in order to learn how to prevent cyber attacks and stop hackers from making their way through your network, you first have to understand the basics.

Please note: if you are a seasoned veteran in system and network administration, and you would like to add to this conversation, please don’t hesitate to reach out and let us know.  We are striving for a balance between keeping it easy enough to understand and providing enough detail to make it interesting.

Network Overview

Networks are all about the storage and transfer of data and information by connecting different systems with specific purposes.  Networks consist of two main parts:

  • Paths—physical and virtual—that are used to transmit data and information
  • Devices—used to access and work on data and information

You have to have different devices to store, access, and perform actions on data as well as a way to transmit that data between systems.  So let’s take a look at these two aspects of a network, and break them down further.

Paths

In order for a network to function you need a way for different systems to communicate with one another; a physical way to transmit data over a distance.  This is typically accomplished in one of two ways.

  • Hardwire: Ethernet, Fiber optics, etc
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi, Radio waves, etc

There are also virtual paths which transfer data within a single physical system between virtual devices, but virtualization of a network is a little outside the scope of a 101 post, so we’ll save that for later.

Devices

Devices make up the network that we interact with on a daily basis.  These physical systems are categorized into a few main buckets:

  • Endpoint / User Devices
  • Server / Storage devices
  • Network traffic devices

Oh, how deep the rabbit hole goes!  Let’s take a look at each of these device types in more detail as they serve as the foundation for better understanding later on, and are most commonly what companies segment their departments around.

Endpoints / User Devices

Endpoints, typically, are any device that can serve as a user’s entry into a network.  For the point of this article we’re going to refer to endpoints as the devices that humans use to interact with a network, so in this case: desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.  These devices, are connected to a business network via Wi-Fi or a hardwired Ethernet cable (usually) and serve as different ‘end points’ of a network.  See? Endpoints? Right!

Server / Storage Devices

Servers and storage devices are, just as the name implies, devices used to serve up and store data.  In most cases you won’t always have direct access to these devices with a monitor and keyboard plugged into them, but instead you’ll access them through some other endpoint. However, servers can be the exception and you’ll often come across servers with direct input/output access.  Storage devices, whether they’re NAS devices, backups, DR systems, etc., are intended to keep large amounts of data, intact, over a long period of time.

Servers are worth mentioning separately because they often are the core of a business’s network, and servers can come in all different flavors.  It’s up to an organization to decide how they want to manage their servers, and whether they prefer to have all their business applications on a single server, or segregated across a number of servers.  For example, a company may have a mail server, a domain controller, a database/SQL server, a DNS server, and a web server all across multiple physical machines.  Or, if the business is small enough, they may incorporate all of these different services and functions on a single machine.  Either way, servers are usually what endpoints need to communicate with in order to facilitate their connection and access across the network, whether it’s to receive corporate email, or access sensitive files.

Network Traffic Devices

Network traffic devices serve very specific use cases and are the ones most people are familiar with, maybe without even realizing it.  Here are some examples of network traffic devices:

  • Modems
  • Routers
  • Switches
  • Hubs
  • Firewalls
  • Access Points / Repeaters

If you have the internet in your home, you are most likely already familiar with a modem and/or a router; it’s the device your internet provider tells you to restart whenever you call their support with a problem.  All these different devices are a great starting place for our next post, Business Networks 201!

Why is this important to a business network administrator?

It’s important to understand how simple or complex a network can be. Why? Because we can easily forget just how many items are involved in the structure of a network, and run the risk of overlooking one of them.

Just like a chain, your network is only as strong as your weakest link

As such, it’s crucial that every single device connected to your network is protected from attacks.  It is also important that there are safeguards in place, for when a device is compromised.  Every single device has an administrative account on it—an account that can be used to login to the system and make critical changes to how the system operates.  Every. Single. Device.  And these administrative accounts, in the IT and Security world, are called Privileged Accounts.

As you can imagine, Privileged Accounts are what attackers try to go after because they provide a level of power that gives them unlimited access to that device, to extract data and cover up their tracks. So protecting these devices is critical. That’s where a company like Thycotic, the leading provider of Privileged Account Management, can help.  We provide businesses with the ability to automatically discover, control, manage, and protect these highly sensitive and powerful accounts.  Learn more about our PAM solution, Secret Server.

FREE Privileged Account Management for Dummies book

Get smart about Privileged Account password security with this quick read


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RJ Gazarek

RJ has nearly 10 years of experience in Marketing from government contracting to cybersecurity. While most of his career was focused on demand generation for small business, he’s recently found a thrill in bringing a structured Product Marketing program to a high velocity organization. With a background in IT and a degree in Psychology, RJ is able to help accelerate product initiatives at Thycotic that center around understanding what our customers need and how to help provide them with the tools that protect them from catastrophic data breaches.

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