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Why network access control is perfect for protecting client data

By NordLayer
10 Aug 2021
9 min read
Client data protection with access control

Professional services & financial firms are easy pickings for cybercrime

It’s not easy being a professional service or financial firm today. As the digital world expands, it brings more vulnerabilities and cybercrime, usually with the sole aim of stealing or damaging valuable data.

If valuable client data got into the wrong hands, significant damage to both profit and reputation often follows. For example, a survey of 10,000 relevant individuals found 70% would not do business with a company after it suffered a significant data breach or cyber-attack.  

In another 2019 study from Accenture on cybercrime in the financial industry, the cost of cyberattacks averaged at $18.5 million per firm. The law industry is in a similar position. According to the American Bar Association, “42% of law firms with up to 100 employees have experienced a data breach”  — much too frequent for any business to feel comfortable about. 

A major weakness in the cybersecurity architecture for many firms is loose access controls. One solution that’s a must for every professional service or financial firm aiming to avoid future data breaches or cyber-attacks due to this weakness is implementing IP whitelisting. It can transform a broken system into one with robust identity and access management. In fact, NordLayer offer a bespoke IP whitelisting solution with an Advanced Plan, dedicated server option.

Don't let your revenue & reputation take a hit from avoidable cyberattacks. Get a bespoke IP whitelisting solution today.
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But how exactly is network access control, like IP whitelisting, beneficial?

Network access control secures client data 

The problem is that finance, law, and consultancy firms handle very private, confidential information on a daily basis, such as client bank details, trade secrets, or confidential attorney-client-privileged data. This should only be accessible to a privileged few — those employees working on the case or directly with the client, for instance. However, with a lack of access permissions to areas of the network where this data exists, there are regular occurrences of unauthorized access, data breaches, and damages to core IT systems.

Access control management such as IP whitelisting provides firms with a way to safeguard the most sensitive data from unauthorized persons or malicious software. It also allows for granular access permissions so that employees are given access to certain data on a ‘need to know basis’ — giving them access to what they need to do their jobs and nothing more. 

Anything they don’t need access to, their IP is blocked from reaching it. Malicious programs can only spread to the area its victim’s IP has access to, and breaches of data in unauthorized areas of the network are prevented, reducing the surface area for attack. 

Protect remote and temporary workers 

Network access control is the perfect tool for changing times. The pandemic brought in a new era — remote working, which ultimately has brought with it renewed digital threats. This is because remote workers are accessing the network from many different endpoints on unknown devices that may be infected. Similarly, it’s common for a law or finance firm to bring in outside help (in the form of contractors or freelancers) on a temporary basis for a particular project, and they will need access to areas of the corporate network on their own devices.  As there is no way to enforce security policies for every temporary worker or remote employee at home, the chances of attacks such as malware infections are increased. 

Hackers can also find their way into the corporate network via the insecure devices of workers. This is especially concerning for firms dealing with trade secrets or confidential financial information. The exposure of these could mean things like insider trading by unscrupulous employees or the illegal selling of intellectual property become a possibility.  

IP whitelisting can reduce these risks by limiting the access to the network for a remote worker. Their access can be provided via a user-to-application model to only the resources they require to complete their work — the rest of the network walled off from their IP. As a result, the worker, or an infection on their device, will be unable to reach the rest of the network, or see any details of the network that their IP is not given access to.

A NordLayer's dedicated server license gives firms a shared IP address, enabling the automatic blocking of any unauthorized IPs trying to connect to the network. Only the IPs included in the whitelist have any access — adhering to the zero-trust principle of ‘deny all and permit some’. The dedicated server plan also comes with multi-factor authentication (2FA) for that extra layer of security when it comes to employee login.

Insights on client data protection

Related articles:

Securing Cloud Computing for Developers

What is IP whitelisting, and how can it secure your business?

eCommerce security issues tackled through secure access control

5 ways the advertising & marketing industry can get creative with their Cloud VPN service

The supply chain is safe with proper access control

Most professional service firms are small or medium-sized and have to prioritize the allocation of finite resources, so they are less likely to have robust cybersecurity initiatives or proper network security infrastructure. This is especially alarming when the use of third-party applications from vendors is ballooning in the industries. 

Third-party applications often have access to areas of the network that contain data and private internal applications. And it’s not unusual for third-party vendors to slack on their software defenses. So even if a firm is packed with the latest security solutions, a backdoor via an insecure third-party application is an easily exploitable weakness for hackers or malware. IP whitelisting manages the risk from these applications. Admins can give a limited number of employees access to each application - those that need them for their work - via their IPs. These employees can then be walled off from confidential areas of the network. This will prevent two things:

  1. A possible attack or infection spreading to the rest of the network, as activity from the employees’ IPs will only be able to reach authorized applications. 

  2. Other employees using applications they aren’t supposed to, and unknowingly opening up backdoors exploitable to attackers.

What’s more, It is very easy to onboard third-party vendors and give them controlled access to your network as you can use your dedicated IP to easily recognize and direct them. 

IP whitelisting works to protect a variety of third-party tools, including:

IP whitelisting for Office365, DocuSign, Datadog
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IP whitelisting helps with data protection compliance

The protection of client data isn’t of exclusive importance to the professional service or financial industries, but also to both ethical and official law. For law firms, the American Bar Association states they should, “make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.” But firms may also need to be GDPR, CCPA, or SHIELD compliant, all of which stress the value of having proper safeguards when handling personal data. 

With NordLayer’ IP whitelisting solution, a firm can actually keep itself compliant with these regulations and laws. By granulating access to confidential information only to those who should be privy to it, it prevents it from being exposed to data breaches and bad actors. 

NordLayer ensures that confidential or private data is as secure as possible through its reliable IP whitelisting solution, alongside AES 256-bit encryption to keep all private traffic private. What’s more, firms will be able to download network activity from an ‘activity log’ from a centralized Control Panel, which is very useful for internal and external IT or data audits. 

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