Putting Up Your Cyber Defenses

It's time to start thinking about protecting your systems - and your employees - in the event of attacks from foreign entities



Earlier this month, I participated in network TV coverage on the massive cyber attacks on U.S. government facilities. The number of attacks – more than 1,100 – seems staggering, but actually is relatively small, given the potential of increasingly well funded attackers and ever more sophisticated technology.

The U.S. nuclear labs are some of the best-protected government facilities in the country, and any penetration is dangerous. Even the theft of employee information might lead an agency worker into giving up state secrets for some of the most lethal technology that exists in the world.

The recent series of attacks is only one of several incidents like this that I've been informed about in the last few months. It appears that such exploits are both becoming more sophisticated and much more successful. Let's look at how these attacks are evolving, and what you can do about them.

Well Financed Attackers
At a security briefing a few months ago, I was lectured on the increasing level of sophistication in both technology and software. In some countries of Eastern Europe, it is legal to create sophisticated hacking tools – and some of the best ones are coming out of that region now with full warranty support.

The governments of these Eastern European countries see their lack of controls as free commerce, but to me, when one government enables its citizens to attack and destroy the financial well-being of businesses and citizens under another government, that’s war – regardless of what name we actually put on it. It is well past time we started stepping up to what this means in terms of defense.

A Disturbing Trend
Over the course of this year, I've been briefed on several attacks on private companies. In one case that lasted almost a year, the attacker ended up with full access to all of the correspondence between top executives and a massive amount of insider information. I'm still not sure what the bad guys did with the data, but clearly, the attackers' efforts to phish for employee personal and financial information were massively successful. These guys had enough data to credibly threaten the financial stability of any employee, including the CEO.

If you think that's scary, remember that the recent attacks on government facilities could have led to the data required to create weapons of mass destruction. Attackers are getting much bolder, and are feeling secure that they cannot be caught or punished – even if they go after highly protected government sites.

The good news is that it isn't hard to prevent this sort of attack. Make employees aware that they will not get requests from IT for passwords or confidential information. Make sure the TPM in their computers is turned on and properly used, so they can trust the connections they have. Make them aware of the places that they can go to both input information legitimately and to report and find out about electronic attacks.

Getting Physical
While cyber attacks are in vogue, there have been several instances this month in which gunmen appeared in a place of business. It is well past time to teach employees how to protect themselves physically as well as electronically. Just some simple rules could help employees stay safe in a dangerous situation.

I’m not talking about arms training here – just some guidelines to follow when employees see something that doesn’t look right. Often, an alert employee can see something that others might not – if he knows what to look for and what to do about it.

— Rob Enderle is President and Founder of Enderle Group . Special to Dark Reading.

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