Take Control of Your Network During the Holiday Shopping Season

It’s the holiday season and that means we’re all busy with fun activities. Take online shopping for example. Many of us will do it between Black Friday and New Year’s, even for just a little while. Some of us do it at work. When employees spend time shopping online during work hours it presents challenges for any organization. Perhaps the three biggest challenges are network security, employee productivity and bandwidth consumption.

How popular is online shopping? Last year, data from the National Retail Federation (NRF) revealed that retail holiday buying increased 4.1% to just over $600 billion. Much of that shopping was done online. This year the NRF is forecasting retail sales of $630 billion, up 3.7% over 2014. According to an NRF survey almost half of all holiday shopping, whether it’s making a purchase or merely browsing, will again be done online this year. Let’s take a look at the impact this has on organizations and the steps you can take to overcome the challenges online shopping poses.

Network security

  • Malware – Employees who shop online at work inadvertently create opportunities for malicious attacks directed at your network and your organization. The most common threats are viruses, worms, Trojans and spyware.
  • Phishing – Phishing is an email fraud method in which the perpetrator sends out a legitimate-looking email in an attempt to gather personal and financial information from unsuspecting recipients.
  • Malicious advertising – Commonly referred to as “malvertising,” this threat uses online advertising to spread malware which can then capture information such as credit card and social security numbers from infected machines.

Employee productivity

  • The big drain – With workers bringing their own smartphones and tablets into the office, we’re seeing an increased blurring of the line between work life and personal life as employees exercise more freedom to use these devices for personal activities such as online shopping during work hours. When they’re shopping on company time it means they’re not working so their productivity has decreased.

Bandwidth consumption

  • Disappearing bandwidth – With about half of your employees shopping online during the holidays, the bandwidth available to critical applications on your network is going to disappear. Therefore, it’s critical to prevent vital bandwidth from being consumed by non-productive web use.

While you can’t completely eliminate threats to your network, drops in productivity and misuse of valuable bandwidth, there are measures you can take that are well within the reach of your organization simply by practicing good digital hygiene. Here are five things your organization can do to reduce the risks of a successful attack while maintaining productivity levels and conserving bandwidth.

  1. Help employees learn how to avoid malvertising and recognize phishing emails. Be on the lookout for suspicious emails and links, especially those requesting sensitive information.
  2. Educate employees to use different passwords for every account. Establish policies for strong passwords such as guidelines regarding password length, the use of special characters and periodic expiration, and reduce the number of passwords through single sign-on.
  3. Because many attacks are based on known vulnerabilities in browsers including Internet Explorer, as well as in plug-ins and common apps, it’s critical to apply updates and patches promptly and reliably. They will contain fixes that can block exploits.
  4. Make sure you install an intrusion prevention system and gateway anti-malware technology on your network. They add important layers of protection by blocking Trojans, viruses, and other malware before they reach the company network. They can also detect and block communications between malware inside the network and the cybercriminal’s server on the outside.
  5. Take back control of your network by limiting the use of your bandwidth to business-related activities. There are several technologies available such as content and URL filtering that can be used to prevent employees from visiting websites dedicated to shopping and other non-productive topics. Also, application control provides the tools to restrict the use of applications such as social media to employees who have a business reason to use them.

SonicWall offers a complete range industry-leading next-generation firewalls that secure your network from threats and give you the controls to keep employee productivity high and bandwidth focused on business-critical applications. To learn more about how these solutions can help you during the holiday shopping season and beyond, please visit our website.

Geoff Blaine on Twitter
Geoff Blaine
Director of Corporate Communications | SonicWall
A 12-year veteran of the security space, Geoff serves as SonicWall’s director of corporate communications. He brings a blend of real-world journalism experience, cybersecurity perspective and mainstream tech interest.
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