How to Prepare Your Network Infrastructure for New Applications
Sooner or later, your organization is going to add some new software to its network (or to individual assets on the network). Adding new software applications helps you in a few different ways. For example, new accounting and inventory applications can help you control expenses or improve your logistics. New customer-facing apps help you enhance the customer’s user experience with your company, making them more likely to return to you in the future.
However, adding new software programs to your network can also bring with it risks—especially when integrating newer software that hasn’t been rigorously tested and patched. Integrating new applications without the appropriate amount of preparation beforehand can be dangerous to your organization.
So, how can you prepare your network infrastructure for new applications to minimize your cybersecurity risks? Here are a few steps you can take before you introduce a new app to your network:
1) Audit and Backup All of Your Mission-Critical Data
One of the things about modern software programs is that they’re massively complex and can have unanticipated interactions when introduced to your network. This can create vulnerabilities that malicious actors can exploit. These unanticipated interactions also may cause data loss that can devastate your operations.
So, one of the things that you should do prior to adding any kind of major software application to your network is to audit all of your stored data and back it up to a remote location. This way, if data loss does occur as a result of adding new software, you can restore the lost data from the backup.
If you already have a remote data backup solution in place, then you should be able to use it to make an extra backup before you begin. If not, then you should prepare one as soon as possible.
2) Perform Virtual Testing Using a Cloned Operating Environment, If Available
Some business continuity solutions involve the use of a cloned, cloud-based operating network/environment that can be activated if your primary production environment goes down. Basically, it’s like having a second set of servers that can be used to imitate your business’ network infrastructure in case of an emergency.
However, there are more uses for these secondary backup environments than just taking over during an emergency. These cloned environments can be used to test a new software or application interface in a realistic production environment—allowing you to see how the application affects your cloned environment without putting your live network infrastructure at risk.
If you don’t have a full-scale backup environment, consider setting up a temporary, small-scale network to perform some limited testing to give you insights into how the program could affect your live environment.
3) Advise Users of Expected Changes
New software means new capabilities and maybe even some new rules regarding the use of the company’s network. Before implementing a new application on your network infrastructure, be sure to apprise users (both internal employees and external customers) of the upcoming change. Training and tutorials should be provided to end users whenever possible.
This gives them a chance to prepare for the change ahead of time—which is preferable to surprising them with new rules and options out of the blue. In fact, notifications should also be given whenever a major update to existing software is planned—especially if such updates would significantly change the navigation or user experience of the software application.
This can be useful for minimizing any adverse impacts to productivity that a major change might cause.
4) Check That the Network’s Infrastructure Meets the Application’s Minimum Requirements
While rare, it can sometimes happen that whoever purchased the software application can forget to make sure that it is compatible with the company’s existing infrastructure. Most commonly, the error is that the operating system (OS) required by the program is different from the one that the company predominantly uses.
Most modern business software programs are built to be compatible with at least two major operating systems (typically the latest Mac and Windows-based ones). However, there are instances where a program might be developed for a specialty OS, and will need some kind of custom application program interface (API) to make it compatible with your network.
In most cases, a business’ network infrastructure should easily clear the minimum processing requirements of any application—if it cannot, then either the network desperately needs to be upgraded, or the application simply has an unreasonable set of performance requirements.
5) Determine the Downtime Likely to Occur from Implementing the Software, If Any
Some software applications can be enabled without requiring that you shut down or restart the assets being affected. However, there are times where you may need to shut down the network assets that you’re installing the new applications on—which may impact the availability of some services.
If you need to take down any of your network’s assets to install the new software, try to determine how much time will be required and notify any affected end-users of that fact beforehand. Giving end users some advance notice of a planned service outage allows them to plan around that outage—this is especially important for functions such as bill payment/processing where an inability to access the system at the appropriate time could impact customers.
Ideally, you should send out notifications of planned downtimes at least a week in advance to end users via the email addresses attached to their user accounts. Additional warnings on the company website or in any affected applications/service pages can help get around spam filters to provide a heads-up to end users.
Post-Installation Tip: Run a Penetration Test
As mentioned earlier, new software programs, because of their sheer complexity, can have unanticipated interactions with your existing software and systems. This can introduce new vulnerabilities to your network that go undetected—right up until someone exploits them.
So, after installing a new application on your company’s network, consider running a penetration test to try and find any new vulnerabilities or software bugs that the new software might have introduced. This can be a crucial step for avoiding a massive security compromise further down the road.
Need help preparing your company’s network infrastructure for a new application implementation? Contact Compuquip Cybersecurity today for advice or help with your implementation so you can be confident that your business’ data is protected.