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12/29/2006
02:00 AM
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2007: Trouble Ahead

Dark Reading gives you the lowdown on the main security threats to look out for in '07

One thing's for sure about the security threat landscape in 2007: It'll get a lot more personal.

Everybody has an opinion about what the key security threats will be for next year. But the common thread among the plethora of punditry is that security is getting more of a human face, whether you're the victim of an identity theft scam or corporate espionage, or whether you're the double-agent bad guy behind the attack on your own company.

Attackers, motivated by money, are honing in on individuals and their bank accounts and companies, rather than unleashing a worm to wreak havoc. It's all about the people.

And that often requires a connection, and we're not talking Internet connection. Take the guy sitting in the next cubicle: How well do you really know him? Most targeted attacks require a turncoat insider who's got an ax to grind or a buck to make by teaming up with the bad guys, and this unsettling trend is only going to get worse, security experts say.

A recent University of Michigan study found that 70 percent of corporate theft incidents can be traced to an insider, notes Ellen Libenson, vice president of product management at Symark Software, which sells access control and identity management applications.

"Identity theft is not people from the outside coming in. Very often it involves an insider cooperating," Libenson says. Examples include a programmer in financial trouble who needs to pay off his credit card, or an employee whose online poker-playing has bankrupted him.

Libenson says many companies just don't fund projects to control privileged access. "It's hard to plead the case for why an organization needs this," she says. It's both a technology and business policy issue.

The insider threat is about to reach the tipping point, in Libenson's view, especially with organized crime fanning the fire. "The motivation is even greater, with IT budgets sometimes cut thin," she says. "When people see they are losing their jobs, they do stupid things."

Attack venues are evolving to accommodate new targets. This year saw the increase in Web-based attacks, and that's only going to intensify in 2007, security experts say. A recent IDC report found that up to 30 percent of companies with 500 or more employees have been infected via Web surfing, and 20- to 25 percent via email-borne worms and viruses.

Phishing exploits, too, are moving more toward Web attacks, notes Gunter Ollmann, director of IBM-ISS's X-Force. "Phishing [next year] will focus more on directing people to URLs that contain exploits and malware."

Web 2.0 is also opening a can of worms, security experts say. Watch out for end users who frequent social networking sites and Wikipedia, which are the most susceptible to malware and attacks, as well as Web apps that use Ajax and Web 2.0 software. Cross-site scripting (XSS) worms, for instance, that insert malicious code into Web pages can do some scary stuff, according to ScanSafe, like let an attacker change user settings and access account information.

Meanwhile, with more workers on the move with laptops and handheld devices providing a potential entrypoint into the corporate network, attackers will be going wireless next year, too.

Mobile security weighs heavy on Phil Go's mind for next year. As the CIO of national construction firm Barton Malow, Go says he worries about laptops and thumb drives getting lost or stolen in the field. He's currently looking at token authentication for his users, as well as SSL for secure tunneling. "I'm most concerned with securing our mobile workforce."

And in case you were wondering, spam isn't going away next year. Spammers are dynamically recruiting their botnet armies more efficiently, so that battle will continue in 2007.

"The botnets we [Top Layer Networks] exposed were most aggressively used as a tool for distributed denial-of-service attacks," says Mike Paquette, chief strategy officer with Top Layer Networks. "We saw them trying to extort financial gain, [with threats such as] 'or else we'll take down your site' as well as botnets forwarding spam."

Paquette says botnets next year will be more for distributing malware to commit financial fraud. And image spam will make the spam payload harder to detect, he says.

Secure Computing predicts that the 450,000+ unique zombie machines that appear daily will continue to rise. These machines will be tougher to identify and shut down as they become more intelligent and self-sufficient, says Secure Computing, which expects spam to represent 95 percent of all email by the end of next year.

Ouch!

Other goodies to be on the lookout for in '07 include instant messaging-based worms, rootkits, client-side attacks, and attacks on VOIP systems, security experts say. And don't expect Microsoft vulnerabilities to diminish in the wake of the more secure Vista. Bug-finding overall will still be a hot commodity.

"There will be more vulnerabilities found, with better technologies to help discover them, and there's a motivation for doing it," Top Layer Networks' Paquette says. "So there will be more targeted and effective threats."

And if you still aren't convinced about the human factor, consider this: Arbor Networks says the bad guys will continue to get better at conducting counter-surveillance to cover their tracks. That includes mapping researcher and vendor honeypots and poisoning them with misleading and false data, according to Arbor. And here's the kicker: Arbor says it's seeing cyber criminals use their own researchers to discover new vulnerabilities rather than chasing publicly disclosed ones.

Happy New Year.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • Symark Software
  • IBM Internet Security Systems
  • ScanSafe
  • Top Layer Networks
  • Secure Computing Corp. (Nasdaq: SCUR)
  • Arbor Networks Inc. Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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