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3 Risks of Flat Networks and How to Mitigate Them

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What Is a Flat Network?

Also called a “basic network”, a flat network is where all the devices in the facility are connected to each other. Each device can “talk” to every other device, from the phones in the service department to the cameras at the point of sale to the computers in accounting; there’s no compartmentalization, no segmentation, no differentiation, no prioritization. No levels, ergo, flat. While these types of networks are very common, there are several serious risks of flat networks that you need to be aware of.

Flat networks happen somewhat haphazardly – it’s easier just to “plug and play” than coming up with an informed plan on how to manage your growing number of devices and systems. While it’s simple to implement, your network gets messy very quickly, like a junk drawer. Every home has a drawer that stores all kinds of random bits and pieces in no particular order. You toss in junk without a second thought, and over time, it becomes a disorganized mess and you can never find what you’re looking for. Your network should never resemble a junk drawer

Do I Have a Flat Network?

There are two ways to set up a network – with a plan, and without a plan. There’s no plan with a flat network – any device you plug into it is connected to every other device on the network, and all device traffic is treated the same. If you don’t have a plan, your network ends up very flat. Most devices today are sophisticated enough to automatically connect themselves to available networks, and without a plan to manage them, they end up all being treated equally and default to communicating with every other connected device.

Here’s how to tell if you have a flat network: you just need to answer the question “Who installs new devices and systems for me?” If the answer is anything other than a network management professional, you probably have a flat network. And just like the junk drawer at home, you probably (definitely) have a giant mess on your hands!

What Are the Risks of Flat Networks?

Security

As the old adage goes, a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. In flat networks, all devices on the network communicate with each other, giving attackers multiple pathways into your network. Your network is then only as secure as the most vulnerable device, and let me tell you, they can be extremely vulnerable.

One example that comes to mind is a restaurant that contacted us to assess their network security. They had recently purchased some surveillance equipment and decided to connect the cameras to their network on their own – Plug and Play at its finest. Unfortunately, their flat network structure gave hackers an easy avenue to compromise the cameras, giving the criminals complete control of the surveillance system. They could look through all the cameras, move them back and forth at will, and even send audio through the camera speakers; completely compromised. Eventually, they went as far as harassing restaurant employees by speaking directly to them through the cameras. That’s not the kind of safety you want from your so-called “security” system!

The point is that the surveillance system was infiltrated because hackers compromised another less secure system on the network. With network segmentation, this business could have contained the attack to the less critical system and implemented stronger security protocols for their new security cameras.

Limited Visibility

With no organizational structure in place, you lose the ability to see what’s going on inside your network. Without being able to restrict what can be done on a device-by-device basis, you lose control of your bandwidth, you open your network up to attack, and you severely limit your ability to troubleshoot.

Organizing your network and segmenting your devices from a centralized point solves these issues, giving you added controls to help manage your network.

Unmanaged Bandwidth

Without a network plan, you can’t limit bandwidth based on device and can overload your network, stealing bandwidth from business-critical systems/apps. Nothing gets prioritized, no matter how important the device may be. Without a plan, your network treats traffic from all sources equally, meaning your back-office wireless printer is being given the same priority as your point-of-sale credit card reader. That’s NOT efficient. Security cameras can also eat up a lot of bandwidth if left unmanaged.

When you’re talking about bandwidth, chances are that your first instinct is to reach out to your ISP. They’ll be extremely happy to sell you more bandwidth, but that won’t solve your efficiency problem. That’s where a managed network provider comes in; we make sure you get the most out of your bandwidth and your network.

How to Mitigate the Risks of a Flat Network

There are several methods and techniques to mitigate the risks of a flat network, but they all come down to a simple concept: best practices. Networks become (and remain) flat because there’s no plan. Neglecting device categorization and segmentation for too long eventually creates a disorganized, inefficient, and unsecure network. Methods like switch installation, implementation of QoS (Quality of Service) protocols, P2PE (Point to Point) Encryption, and congruent firewalls all help mitigate the risks of a flat network and give you added control.

In today’s online world, if you can’t scale your network, you’re going to have major problems scaling your business. A managed network will ensure it will follow those best practices, giving you superior flexibility, security, and the ability to easily scale when your business is ready.

The Takeaway

Can you get by with a flat network? It’s possible, depending on what you’re doing with it. What systems are crucial to your business, what’s the most valuable? If security and bandwidth prioritization are important to your business, then it’s critical that you implement a network plan sooner rather than later.

The bottom line for many of our customers is security. Flat networks give attackers multiple ways to infiltrate the network, and having all your devices interact with all other devices means that if one gets compromised, ALL are compromised. A flat network puts a lot of strain on your security resources, since an attack from anywhere puts your entire network at risk. The fewer avenues of attack, the better. That’s why the security risks of flat networks are so severe – businesses are more vulnerable to attacks as their network grows. With a network plan in place (and a trusted network manager), you don’t have to worry about the risks of flat networks and just enjoy the benefit of everything working the way it should.

 

Ready To Learn More?

 

Forget about the network. Tell VanBelkum what applications are important to you. We can help set up your networks so that your most important business applications are always up and available. Maybe you need an advanced network, maybe your needs are somewhat simple; just know that it’s important to invest in your network to keep your business-critical applications working for the long term. We will make sure they are well optimized, consistently available, and routinely updated. Trust VanBelkum’s managed network services to help you mitigate the risks of flat networks.

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