Computer security is an issue that is not going to go away anytime soon, and any business that ignores cybersecurity does so at its peril. Whether it’s a data breach or the insertion of a piece of ransomware, you want to do everything you can to keep your computer networks safe.

Part of that involves being aware of what’s happening on your network and knowing how to recognize suspicious activity when it happens. By spotting trouble as soon as it appears, you stand a much better chance at saving yourself any number of headaches and costs.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to identifying suspicious network activity.

Identifying Suspicious Activity

Any number of behaviors, including database activities, unusual access patterns, and changes to files for logs, can point toward a cyberattack or data breach. Recognizing these activities for what they are is vital if you want to locate the source and type of attack. Doing so will let you act quickly in stopping the security threat and minimizing any damage.

Here are some common examples of suspicious activity:

  • Account abuse: The sudden overuse of privileged accounts to grant access to new or inactive accounts is a sure sign of an attack from the inside. Either an employee has initiated a run of unusual activity, or a hacker has gained access to a top-tier account. Other signs could include sharing information without cause, modifications applied to audit records, or mysterious deletion of login files.
  • User access: Unexpected user access changes are often a reliable sign that an outside hacker has acquired a user’s credentials and is poking around your system. Behaviors you may notice include user access at odd hours, remote access, and multiple failed attempts to log in.
  • Database activity: Unusual database activity can come from both inside and outside your business. Vital signs to watch include unexpected changes in users, changes in permissions, changes in data content growth, and access during non-business hours.
  • Unexpected network behavior: Network activities that fall outside of usual expectations are a reliable signal that something amiss is happening. Look for traffic originating from outside your network, protocol violations, and unauthorized scans. A sudden change in network performance should also be checked out.
  • Unexpected virus notifications and system slowdowns: Simple warnings to be on the lookout for would be a sudden increase in virus warnings or pop-up windows. If computers or networks slow to a crawl, there could be a problem. A hacker may have gotten in and installed malicious software, or a website or email may have downloaded and installed malware on the sly.
  • Unauthorized port access: Most ports have specific assignments. If unsanctioned port access occurs, it could be a sign that files are being accessed without authorization or that a malware attack is underway.

How Suspicious Activity Can Vary

Depending on the sort of business you’re in, suspicious activity may present itself in different ways. For instance, smaller companies might notice user abuse or abnormal database activities early on as bad actors access personal or cardholder information. A larger business or financial institution may more likely experience dodgy account behavior, unauthorized port access, and malware or spyware designed to steal financial data and personal identity information.

Some organizations find themselves the target of advanced persistent threats (APTs). These multi-phase attacks usually go after an organization’s network and vary in their subtlety as they poke and probe for weak

nesses or backdoor access. APTs often choose to attack government organizations or large corporations but have been known to cause trouble for small and medium-sized businesses as well occasionally.

Dealing With Suspicious Network Activity

As with most security issues, the key to approaching suspicious network activity is prevention. This requires having set protocols and procedures for both you and your employees. An effective data security policy should include:

  • Solid password policies
  • Periodic review of traffic, error reports, network alerts, and performance
  • Malware and virus protection
  • Robust firewalls
  • Regular risk assessments
  • Employee education
  • Incident and failure response strategies
  • File integrity monitoring

Data Security Is Serious Business

Your customers expect you to keep their information safe, and your business’s reputation is on the line. As often as hackers and other bad actors keep finding new ways to target and exploit networks, so too do the strategies and tools for combating these threats evolve. Whether it’s adopting file integrity monitoring, conducting system activity audits, or running simple virus checkers, you can stay ahead. It just takes a bit of vigilance and commitment to your network’s security.

Your business will be stronger for it.