Computer Security: Your 5-Step Survival Guide

By John Moore  |  Posted 2006-05-15 Print this article Print

New threats to your computer infrastructure emerge every day. Baseline's Security Survival Guide provides tips and techniques to help you safeguard your organization.

It's a dangerous world. Every day, thousands of attacks that threaten to corrupt key systems, steal customer data, and otherwise abuse information-technology assets assault U.S. businesses.

The SANS Institute, which provides computer security education and training, estimates that the average Internet network address experiences an attack every 24 minutes. In most cases, it's an unscrupulous hacker trying to infect corporate computers with viruses, worms and Trojans-commonly dubbed "malware."

But Matthew Speare, group vice president and corporate information security officer at M&T Bank, says that in the trenches it's really not any single type of attack that poses the greatest challenge, but rather "keeping up with the sheer volume" of attempted attacks, which "continue to grow at about 25% to 30% a year."

Full-blown incidents reported to the CERT Coordination Center soared to 137,529 in 2003 from just six in 1988. Since 2003, the center, part of Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute, has simply stopped counting, reasoning that attacks have become so common that tallying them no longer tells us anything significant about their scope and impact.

Security breaches exact a huge financial toll. Losses of $130.1 million were reported by the 639 respondents to the 2005 Computer Crime and Security Survey, conducted by the Computer Security Institute (CSI), in conjunction with the FBI's Computer Intrusion Squad in San Francisco. Although that figure was down from 2004, losses per respondent increased in two key categories: Unauthorized access to information reached $303,234 in 2005 from $51,545 in 2004, and theft of proprietary information climbed to $355,552 in 2005 from $168,529 in 2004.

As hackers get more sophisticated, they're also highly motivated and more frequently in it for the money than any underground programmers' glory, says Joe Payne, president and chief operating officer at iDefense Security Intelligence Services, a VeriSign company. Today's perpetrators "don't want to be known for attacks and do them under the radar," he says. "A successful attack is one that doesn't get noticed." He cites the Windows Metafile graphics file format exploit, which surfaced late last year and went undetected in the security industry for about three weeks.

Refined threats call for a new security strategy, says Johannes Ullrich, chief research officer at the SANS Institute.

"With a sophisticated attacker, you have to assume they may have ... a way around any particular safeguard you have in place," he says, making it all the more important to have multiple layers of defense, so the hacker must work harder to get around a series of roadblocks.

But software isn't Superman, guarding your systems and laughing as the bullets bounce harmlessly to the floor; in the real world, absent a defined organizational security policy and experienced personnel to carry it out and make intelligent decisions, your company has a big bull's-eye on it, and as the intruders keep firing away, one day they may just hit the mark.

To help chief information officers and chief security officers secure systems in this changing, challenging threat environment, Baseline presents this Security Survival Guide featuring tips and techniques from the nation's top security experts, including information systems experts, corporate security officers and top security consultants. They'll give you a heads-up on how to detect initial attacks, track down the source, enact an incident response plan, deal with corporate management and learn from experience-and, hopefully, help you sleep a little easier when all is said and done.

John writes the Contract Watch column and his own column for the Channel Insider.

John has covered the information-technology industry for 15 years, focusing on government issues, systems integrators, resellers and channel activities. Prior to working with Channel Insider, he was an editor at Smart Partner, and a department editor at Federal Computer Week, a newspaper covering federal information technology. At Federal Computer Week, John covered federal contractors and compiled the publication's annual ranking of the market's top 25 integrators. John also was a senior editor in the Washington, D.C., bureau of Computer Systems News.


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.