Security Practices Apply to Everyone

Recently, I had requested bank account numbers and bank routing numbers from a few companies with whom we have just begun doing business. I needed to get these companies set up for on line payments since all of our corporate banking is conducted electronically.

I made my request to accountants, chief financial officers and the like. I got the information I needed but what surprised me about receiving this data was that each person emailed the information to me in plain text with no encryption.

Employees with responsibility for corporate financial data have some of the most sensitive company information at their fingertips every day. Often, I think we neglect to recognize the potential for damage if this data got into the wrong hands. Of course, measures are in place within our office environments and on our computer networks, but security for email is often forgotten.

Although my financial counterparts may not use encryption every day, I would encourage them to adopt a method and learn to use it. If your primary responsibilities focus on accounting in your organization, I urge you to inquire with your technical support staff about an encryption method and then use it whenever you transmit sensitive data through email. If your IT department does not have an accepted encryption method, you can begin to research some common options by reviewing PGP, GPG or the encryption built into Win Zip (just make sure you use strong passwords).

Then you will be doing your part in maintaining your company’s confidential data whenever it travels over the Internet!

Secure VPN boosts business continuity

Business continuity is subject to many unexpected events, one of which is the weather. When New York got covered by 9 feet of snow, practically everyone had to stay home until the roads were clear. But the productivity of some businesses was virtually unphased by the tons of snow because they use secure VPN access to log into their corporate network from the comfort of their own home. VPN, meaning virtual private network, lets packets traverse the Internet encrypted so they cannot be read by malicious entities. The end result is that using a VPN is virtually equivalent to plugging your ethernet cable into the wall.

Of course one wouldn’t want to use one-factor authentication on a resource as valuable to attackers as a VPN, so anyone who accesses the VPN should be required to use multiple-factor authentication. Some businesses implement this with SecurID tokens that change numbers in a pseudorandom fashion, others use certificates that require passwords to unlock them, and some businesses also limit access to the VPN so that only certain whitelisted IP addresses can get in. No matter how you configure it, VPN can save your business big bucks by allowing your workers to be productive from home on snow days.

More Facts About the Insider Threat

The US military and CERT have released some interesting data on the insider threat to organizations. You can find a media write up of it here.

Of most interest were some of the numbers. I was pretty amazed by the fact that 86% of the insider threat originates in IT and that some 90% of incidents involved people who already had Administrator/root privileges on the network!

It makes sense that IT would be a large source of cyber threats, but I really had always thought that we were doing a better job of teaching ethics to IT staff. The percentages seem to disagree with that and I think it makes a clear statement that we need to improve on developing not just technical skills in our teams, but also ethical behaviors and insight.

That 64% of incidents involved remote access systems like terminal servers, VPN and such combined with non-terminated password accounts or known accounts that did not change their passwords is NOT amazing to me. This remains one of the most serious threats that organizations face today – especially if they are larger than a small company.

Quite simply, password management has become a nightmare, and passwords remain the largest threat to the security of any organization. Password changes are too difficult in most environments, too many applications require administrative access to operate and there are little true technical solutions to the problem. Hopefully in the future, some real and functional technology will arrive to replace passwords – but most of the current solutions seem to fall far short in terms of cost, reliability and ease of management. (Bonus to vendors and developers: Make something to fill this niche that meets those three requirements and get rich!)

I don’t think anything in the article is rocket science, but it is nice to get firm numbers that confirm what security pundits (myself included) have been saying for close to a decade. Insiders matter. Ethics matter. Passwords just have to go.

In the meantime, while we wait for maturity of technical solutions on the password front, we can certainly begin to identify ways to increase cyber ethics and to help educate people and companies about the insider threat. Truly, as with most cases, education seems to be the key to affecting change. Maybe, if we begin to strengthen the ethical training of tomorrow’s network and system admins, we can lower those percentages and the risks for future generations.

Completed: The MSI Promise of “Finding a Better Way to Do Intrusion Detection”

With the release of our HoneyPoint:Network Trust Agent (HP:NTA) product this week, we have completed our promise to develop HoneyPoint technologies that are deployable throughout the entire organization. For more than two years, our clients and other security folks have been telling us that Intrusion Detection technologies were just not cutting it when it came to defending the internal network and the systems that you depend on to run your businesses. I personally and publically promised, last year, that I would find a better way forward and I now feel that we have lived up to that promise.

HP:NTA, along with the rest of the HoneyPoint product family, gives organizations a platform to deploy host-based intrusion detection built on an entirely new paradigm. The products require no signature updates, have no false positives to contend with, run on existing hardware and are based on the idea of “deploy and forget”. When you combine these factors, you get the highest ROI in the market today, the easiest solution to deploy and manage AND what I believe to be the best security mechanism you can buy.

One of the leading factors in HoneyPoint’s importance is that the technology detects intrusion earlier than most other technologies. By that, I mean that the idea of HoneyPoints tend to capture attackers, focused attackers, when they are still in their targeting mode. If you look at other dectective technologies like signature based tools, NIDS and such – they detect the attacker in the act of EXPLOITING a target. One of the key reasons that HoneyPoint has been so successful at capturing intruders and allowing their threats to be mitigated, is that HoneyPoints key in on the attacker methodology. They capture attackers while the attacker is performing their initial probes – even as they attempt to identify potentially vulnerable services and systems to exploit.

That simple difference, of capturing the attacker earlier in their approach, may well allow organizations to save themselves immense amounts of financial damages, regulatory exposures and loss of confidence. That alone, makes all of our work developing the HoneyPoint product family worth the effort. If we can help one organization better protect one consumer, then all of our work was worth it!

Now, with the release of HP:NTA, HoneyPoint Personal Edition and the flagship, revolutionary HoneyPoint Security Server we have created the tools that organizations deploy on their servers, their administrative workstations and even the systems of everyday users and road warriors. Each product is geared to the appropriate skill level of the user, and in each case – we made every attempt to keep the interfaces easy to use, easy to manage and easy to understand. The tools are all deployable en masse, upgradable with little more than file exchanges and include personalized support from our simply amazing staff of security engineers. In short, these products represent the completetion and embodyment of our promise to our clients and the world. We said we would find a better way, and we did. We said we would make it possible for you to better protect yourselves, more easily than ever before. We have lived up to our word.

Looking forward, as we complete the development of HoneyPoint Security Server 2.00, we are about to again revolutionize the industry. The 2.00 release promises to bring more power, more flexibility and even more customization to enable our clients and the world to achieve yet another security plateau. Our commitment to you is to listen to your needs, continue to develop HoneyPoint technologies and work together to find new solutions.

As the 2.00 release draws near, stay tuned for more information, sneak peeks and discussions about what other changes to the product line are being planned. As always, please feel free to send us your thoughts, questions or input.

Thanks for making MSI your security partner. We appreciate working with each and every one of you!