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7 Lessons From IT Security Trial

Over the last several weeks, InformationWeek has been covering the trial of a former UBS PaineWebber systems administrator, Roger Duronio, who's accused of writing and setting off a highly destructive logic bomb at his former employer as revenge for not receiving the maximum yearly bonus. The government prosecution contends that Duronio was not only looking to wreak havoc, but also to profit by purchasing securities whose valu
Over the last several weeks, InformationWeek has been covering the trial of a former UBS PaineWebber systems administrator, Roger Duronio, who's accused of writing and setting off a highly destructive logic bomb at his former employer as revenge for not receiving the maximum yearly bonus. The government prosecution contends that Duronio was not only looking to wreak havoc, but also to profit by purchasing securities whose value would rise if the company's stock went down--the theory being that the company's stock would tank as a result of the security problem that prevented traders from doing their work.The trial provides an enlightening perspective on the damage such attacks can cause, as well as other security lessons that all IT organizations must learn if they're going to avoid becoming victims. My top seven:

  • If you want to make it as difficult as humanly possible for hackers--whether employees or outsiders--to ply their trade, your company needs to have bulletproof security policies and practices. That may seem extremely obvious, but in the course of this trial, UBS employees acknowledged that 40 systems administrators in the company's data center used the same password for root--or all-encompassing--access to the company's network. The defense has been aggressively pouncing on this as an indicator of porous security that left the network vulnerable to attack, and it's tough to argue that point. In addition, 20% of the servers affected by the attack had inadequate data backup--not the smartest move for a company whose lifeblood, stock trading, requires data access.

  • Don't underestimate the measures a hacker or person seeking revenge will go to in order to prove their point or carry out their plan. In this case, the sophistication of the logic bomb's author has come into question, but one point is undeniable: The person responsible methodically placed the trigger that set off the logic bomb on every affected server two times to maximize the chances it would wreak havoc. Sophisticated or not, the plan did immense damage, just as the attacker hoped it would.

  • You can't be too wary of disgruntled or otherwise suspicious employees. Sure, we'd all be pissed off if our bonus came up $15,000 to $20,000 short. That's not chump change, even for someone making a base salary of $125,000 per year, as the defendant was. But how many of us would be willing to risk our future, our reputation, the reputation of our families, and a lengthy jail stay over that amount of money? Duronio was prepared to do so, if the prosecution's account is accurate.

  • The effects of a major attack can be far-reaching and long-lasting, even after the forensics pros have gone home and the remediation work is done. By the admission of UBS's own IT pros in trial testimony, on March 4 (the date of the attack), for two or three years later, they took critical servers offline to avoid the affects of any lingering malicious code. Also by UBS's own account, the effects are still felt today, more than four years later.

  • Even a hacker who's successful at damaging systems and impairing business can be susceptible to stupid behavior that points back to him or her. We don't yet know whether Duronio is guilty, but the existence of hard-copy printouts of malicious code in his home is likely to weigh heavily on the jury.

  • When it comes to security--and in fact all IT work--choose your vendors carefully. The defense has been hammering away at UBS's use of @Stake after the attack, in part because it employed well-known hackers. It's entirely possible, even likely, that @Stake is totally on the up and up. Perhaps UBS was fully aware of the hacking backgrounds of some employees and considered those backgrounds when hiring @Stake. Let's hope that was the case.

  • IT security problems--aside from the direct financial damage to a business--can be a public relations nightmare for any company, and even worse for a financial services firm. UBS's PR organization must be eagerly awaiting the day this trial is over and no longer in the news. No matter how well-meaning and even well-run its IT operations may have been, the trial isn't casting that organization in a positive light.
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Kirsten Powell, Senior Manager for Security & Risk Management at Adobe
Joshua Goldfarb, Director of Product Management at F5