As an IT manager, it is important to know how to manage your network and protect it from cyberattacks. Switches are very common devices and can be a security risk if they aren’t managed properly.
Knowing how to manage your switches is one of the most important parts of protecting your network from cyberattacks. In this post, we’ll explain the differences between managed and unmanaged switches, take you through some of the top cyber threats that switches pose, and show you how to mitigate those risks by managing your network properly.
What are switches
Switches are network devices that are used to connect computers and other systems to a network.
At its most basic, network switches quickly and efficiently deliver data packets from device A to device B.
When a computer or device sends information to another device, the data enters the switch, and the switch reads the header to determine what to do with it. The switch matches the destination address(es) and sends the packet out through the appropriate ports that lead to the destination devices.
What are unmanaged switches?
Unmanaged switches immediately start forwarding traffic once users have plugged them in. They are designed to just plug in and run, with no settings to configure.
They are generally less expensive than their managed counterparts and do not require the user to configure them manually.
They are also referred to as “dumb” switches because they don’t require any programming or configuration changes before using them.
What are managed switches?
A managed switch controls how data travels across the network and who has access to that data. Managed switches are fully configurable, customizable, and provide a range of data on network performance.
With a managed switch, there are several options for controlling your network. For instance, administrators can customize the settings for each port to manage, configure, and monitor network data closely.
Managed switches also provide security settings that can be configured to protect the network and to help identify threats and help remediate breaches.
What are the risks in using switches that aren’t managed?
Unmanaged switches can be difficult to control and hard to protect, which makes them a huge risk for any organization.
The biggest concern with unmanaged switches is that they provide access points into your network through open ports, which could be used by someone who wants access/control over what happens inside your network. Unmanaged switches do not provide any security capabilities. Without security features, network managers can’t easily tell if any unauthorized devices are connected to your network.
Because of that, unmanaged switches are difficult to protect. While there are ways to help secure an unmanaged switch, it’s extremely challenging and time-consuming to implement security measures on a large scale.
Overall, unmanaged switches are harder to secure than managed ones because they don’t have the features necessary to detect rogue devices on your network. Rogue devices can be introduced through unsecured ports on an unmanaged network. That can pose a serious threat to your data security, threats that often go undetected until it’s too late.
As a result of the above risks, unmanaged switches can be used to launch attacks against your network.
Are there risks with managed switches?
While managed switches provide security features to protect your network, there are risks associated with them, as well.
Since these are more sophisticated devices, misconfiguration of them can result in network disruptions and data loss.
Because of their management capabilities, managed switches may store valuable information such as access control lists, administrative credentials, authentication information, as well as configuration information from connected devices.
This information, while critical to securely manage your network, can also be used to attack it. Extreme care should prevent unauthorized access and ensure that data is securely destroyed once the switch is taken out of service.
If you use an unmanaged switch, we recommend upgrading it to a managed switch. Migrating to a managed switch will make managing all the devices on your network much easier while also giving better protection against threats like malware infections or unauthorized access attempts. It allows your network team to take better control of the network, the traffic, and the devices.
It is critical to keep your switches up to date with security patches and updates and ensure all connected devices are protected, as well.
As with all your devices, when they are no longer connected to your network, we recommend contacting an IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) specialist like Sipi Asset Recovery to ensure that any data is completely inaccessible. While minimal information is stored on an unmanaged switch, without proper disposition, that information can be used to create further threats to your network. For managed switches, the imperative is even greater to work with an ITAD specialist since the data stored on these devices contains sensitive network information.