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Cisco Broadens Threat Picture With New Report

First-time annual study offers insights on human, physical aspects of security as well as attacks and vulnerabilities

After looking at all of the other "state of security" reports from analysts and other vendors, Cisco still wasn't satisfied that enterprises understood the full range of threats against them. So this year, Cisco is publishing its own report.

Like most other annual studies, the report, which comes from Cisco's newly relaunched Cisco Security Center, contains a look back at 2007 and predictions for 2008. But in addition to tracking exploits and vulnerabilities, it looks at other phases of risk, such as physical security and human behavior.

According to Cisco CSO John Stewart, the security battle is no longer always about fighting spam or viruses -- there may be human or political issues involved as well.

"Cybercrime is evolving before our eyes, oftentimes using well-known techniques seen before only in electronic form," Stewart said. "You just can't afford to view information security threats as a standalone duel against a virus or a phishing attack; threats involve social engineering and technology, trust and pervasive use."

The report does offer statistics on vulnerabilities. In 2007, the incidence of application vulnerabilities was up 53 percent, and the incidence of buffer overflow was up 23 percent, the company says. In 2008, users should expect growth in attacks on system memory, smartphones, and portable storage devices, the report warns.

But the report also looks at other facets of security, such as legal issues. Cisco notes that companies are increasingly becoming involved in efforts to access each other's data, as evidenced by the legal flap between Oracle and SAP earlier this year. In 2008, fewer companies will be involved in placing spam or spyware on users' computers, Cisco predicts, but incidence of industrial espionage will increase.

Insider threats and employee trust issues will also be a major source of focus for security organizations in 2008, Cisco predicts. As companies become more vulnerable to internal attacks, they will step up their efforts to limit data access, the company says.

Identity issues will continue to be a problem for enterprises next year, the report says. Cisco recommends re-evaluating identity management practices as well as policies for storing personal information across the company.

Human beings will likely be the enterprise's single most exploitable vulnerability in 2008, Cisco says. The report predicts an increase in phishing and social engineering attacks, and encourages enterprises not to underestimate the effects of theft of personal information.

"Don't assume that an attack is what it seems," the report says. "Increasingly, attackers are looking to steal information not just for the value of the information itself, but for use in targeted phishing and social engineering attacks."

Enterprises should also be wary of politically motivated attacks, which Cisco expects to increase in 2008, the report says. Companies should have contingency plans in case of a network-wide attack, and they should recognize that businesses, not just government entities, may be targets for attack.

Cisco plans to issue the security report annually, officials said.

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Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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