Education is key to security

May 2011 Information Security

It is not always the newest technology that secures the enterprise.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to David Jacoby, senior security researcher, global research and analysis team at Kaspersky Lab on a recent trip to South Africa about the current state of the information security market.

David Jacoby
David Jacoby

Coming from a company that is on the cutting edge of cyber crime and malware (malicious software), one could expect Jacoby to speak at length about the new, complex threats facing companies today. What Jacoby mentions, however, is that companies focus too much on future threats and the latest Trojans and so forth.

“Many of the security problems we saw 10 years ago are still appearing in companies today,” Jacoby said. So, as companies are spending money on solutions to newer threats, older vulnerabilities lie unpatched and give criminals an open door, the same door they have used for years.

He adds that companies are careful in employing and training IT staff to ensure they have the needed skills in configuring their security technologies, but they often forget the easiest way into an organisation’s information is via its non-IT employees. Training employees to be aware of potential problems is key to protecting the enterprise.

All employees with e-mail access must be taught that clicking on unknown attachments or ‘emergency messages’ from their banks is inadvisable. More than that, they need to be taught what the possible consequences are and whom they can speak to if they are unsure of what to do in a certain scenario.

“We were surprised to find that in a large company in Sweden, only 10% of the employees knew what their employer produced in terms of information,” Jacoby added. Every company retains sensitive information that cannot fall into the wrong hands without causing embarrassment or creating legal problems. If employees do not know what information is out there, what should not be put at risk and how to ensure their activities do not allow a data breach, how can they play a role in keeping data secure?

Security tools are there to remove the low-hanging fruit, according to Jacoby, and companies therefore need these products in place. However, there is no tool that can change human behaviour, the only way to do this is through education.

False sense of security

Jacoby also mentioned that some users believe using Linux makes them automatically secure so no work is needed to harden their servers. “The reality is that the default configuration for Linux is no more secure than Windows or any other operating system,” he explains. “You still need to go into the system and configure it to the appropriate security settings to ensure you are actually secured.”

Many people also think there is no malicious code for Linux. This is wrong and even irrelevant as ‘drive-by downloads’ operate on any Web servers that produce HTML Web pages. This means clicking on an infected Java link or PDF file on a Linux server can be as dangerous as any other Web server as malware stored on insecure Linux systems can easily be downloaded to Windows machines and cause havoc.

Jacoby notes that compromised Web servers are an enormous problem today as people are used to downloading anything they feel like, without considering the implications. And the brand of Web server you choose makes little difference to malware writers if you have not configured it for security.

A similar scenario applies to virtualisation. Virtual servers are fast becoming the norm in data centres and corporate server rooms globally, but do those operating them know enough to keep them secure?

Protect your assets

Just as companies go to great lengths to protect their physical assets with alarms, guards and surveillance, logical assets need to be protected as well. The way to do this is to look at what you need to protect, develop the policies and procedure required to protect them and then do what is required in terms of education and tools to ensure they are enacted and maintained. Of course, you need to regularly audit these policies to ensure they remain current and effective.

Buying products is necessary, but only those products that meet the requirements identified in a risk analysis. The coolest and latest tools are fun, but not always the optimal solution for those taking security seriously.

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