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Anonymous Drives Security Fears, But Not Spending

Information security budgets remain focused on stopping malware and advanced persistent threats (APTs), which tend to do more damage in the long run than hacktivists' SQL injection and DDoS attacks.

Anonymous: 10 Facts About The Hacktivist Group
Anonymous: 10 Facts About The Hacktivist Group
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Who are the groups voted most likely to lob cyber attacks at companies over the next six months? That would be the hacktivist set, including Anonymous, LulzSec Reborn, and their ilk.

So said 61% of 1,900 IT and information security personnel recently surveyed by endpoint security firm Bit9. Interestingly, however, the survey also found that actual information security program spending doesn't track this threat analysis.

Instead, most businesses are devoting the majority of their security resources to stopping what they see as the most prevalent attack techniques: malware (for 45%), as well as spear phishing (16%). Interestingly, both of these types of attacks--often used as part of advanced persistent threats (APTs)--are the hallmark not of hacktivists, but rather criminal enterprises, nation states, or sometimes even competitors. Although only 20% of respondents overall ranked corporate competitors as their most likely attackers in the next six months, one-third of all European respondents listed corporate espionage as their top threat concern.

[ Read 10 Strategies To Fight Anonymous DDoS Attacks. ]

Businesses spent markedly less to battle typical hacktivist attack vectors, such as SQL injection hacks or distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks.

Why do companies fear Anonymous but spend more to stop malware and spear phishing? "My takeaway is that people are definitely more aware of the threat landscape we face, more than ever before. And Verizon's 2012 data breach report, for the first time ever, said that Anonymous or hacktivist organizations represented more than half of all the database records stolen in 2011. So it's not just fear," said Harry Sverdlove, CTO of Bit9.

Businesses, of course, are worried about seeing their name featured on newspaper front pages thanks to Anonymous hacking their servers, then very publicly releasing stolen records into the public domain. Even so, APTs are likely to be much more damaging to the business over the long term.

"The difference is, if you're attacked by a hacktivist organization, you might see your data posted immediately to the Web," Sverdlove said. "If you're attacked by a criminal enterprise, you might start seeing a trickle of compromised accounts after a few months. If you're attacked by a nation state, you might never find out about that."

Which parts of the IT infrastructure concern security personnel most? More than half of survey respondents characterized the weakest technology link in their IT program as the infrastructure servers, including domain controllers, DNS servers, and credential servers. Respondents were concerned, but less so, with their other servers--file, database, Web, email--and endpoints.

What's the best way to improve a business's information security posture? According to a majority of respondents, the secret is simple: follow security best practices, create better security policies, and enforce them. Interestingly, only 15% said that better technology would have the biggest impact on their security programs. Only 7% believe that government regulations and law enforcement would have the biggest impact on improving their cyber security.

In our InformationWeek Government virtual event, Next Steps In Cybersecurity, experts will assess the state of cybersecurity in government and present strategies for creating a more secure IT infrastructure. It happens May 24.

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