Where does security end?

October 2008 News

I have been an observer of IT security for some time. Sad to say, this market is one where hype makes the sale more often than common-sense. That is not to say there is not a real need for IT security, but as in the physical security world, taking care of the monsters under the bed by buying a quick solution always leaves the windows and doors open for even worse monsters.

The fact is you cannot do a bit here and there; you need an holistic security process that covers everything. Security needs to be a part of every business process, every installation of anything and every device or gadget in the office.

This might sound like more FUD, but the need to have a security mindset in everything was brought home to me recently by a story a colleague in the PR business tells.

This chap runs a business that helps companies prepare for crises, to ensure they are able to manage the process and get back to business quickly without losing credibility. The way Eskom handled its collapse in the early months of this year is an example of how not to handle a crisis.

Part of the process was to phone some of the executives with a bogus rumour a journalist was supposed to have heard and see how they react under pressure. The lesson I learned from this story was that securing your organisation covers so much more than cameras, alarms or guards.

In certain instances, the executives called were not available and the fake journalist was transferred to a voice mail system. Nothing wrong with that. The problem was that someone had installed this system very badly. Instead of being afforded the opportunity to leave a message for these individuals, he was taken to the main menu of the Asterix system (an open source PBX and telephony platform).

There he was asked to enter the extension number. He did, thinking it was simply a badly designed system. Then it asked for a password. Initially he hung up since he did not want to collect a message, but leave one.

The next time this happened, he decided it was not a bad system but a badly installed system and when asked for a password entered four zeros. And he was into this executive’s voicemail system and could have left rude messages or nasty comments about the CEO with ease. He could also have made that message the default for the user so that others hear it when they call in. Who knows what he may have been able to do with a little research on the Internet about Asterix?

This is obviously not the worst security breach a company could suffer, but if the default passwords on the phone system were left open to the world, has anyone asked if the default passwords to the routers and servers have been changed? What about the systems controlling physical and logical access?

Security is never a given. It needs to become a process inherent to everything the company does and part of the mindset of each individual. It is not only the responsibility of security managers, they set the standard and the whole company needs to follow, including the top brass.

Andrew Seldon



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