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F5 Focus Group Assesses Security Risks From Politically Motivated Attacks

IT security professionals view “hacktivism” as simply an extension of current threats
SEATTLE, FEBRUARY 14, 2011 – F5 Networks, Inc. (NASDAQ: FFIV), the global leader in Application Delivery Networking, recently assembled a group of IT security professionals to examine the well-publicized WikiLeaks attacks of late 2010 and discuss the perceptions of similar threats within the IT industry. In a detailed findings report, the focus group concluded that the DDoS attacks used by hackers did not represent a new kind of threat, and that in many cases these attacks would be indistinguishable from other types of malicious traffic.

The group did acknowledge some novel aspects of the WikiLeaks attacks, however. Most notably, this was the first known large-scale attack to involve voluntary participation. Instead of having to rely on the exploitation of vulnerable machines to create a botnet, many people willingly turned over control of their machines to hackers. With this approach, hackers can access a given machine’s full resources without needing to worry about being detected, meaning fewer machines are able to orchestrate larger attacks. The other significant aspect of these attacks, according to the focus group participants, was the act of hacking out of a sense of moral outrage rather than monetary gain.

The security experts also emphasized the importance of properly applying foundational security principles to manage emerging threats. By working with ISPs to detect and filter malicious traffic, organizations and their networks will have less risk of downtime in the event of a DDoS attack. This also frees IT personnel and resources that can be applied to strengthening security practices and focusing on threats aimed at both the network and applications.

Selected Quotes from Focus Group Attendees

“Whenever we are in the media or customers are in the media, that makes us a target,” said the senior security architect for a financial institution.

“We’ve been seeing an uptick in attacks over the last year or so,” noted the senior architect of an electronic publishing company, “but I don’t think I could attribute any of it to WikiLeaks.”

The senior security architect of a large financial institution stated, “We made sure that our Internet service providers have the capability to block these attacks and keep that traffic off of our pipe so we can keep serving our customers.”

“We’re involved in watching discussions and code sharing and chat groups,” said the director of security services for a large communication solutions provider, speaking about the importance of monitoring social media sites for indications that groups or individuals may be coordinating a targeted attack.

Supporting Quotes

“ESG anticipates continued growth in politically motivated cyberattacks,” said Jon Oltsik, Senior Principal Analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. “As attacks increase, unprepared enterprises will find their resources and security defenses strained, putting sensitive corporate information at further risk.”

“The key to successfully weathering a DDoS attack is to uphold fundamental security best practices,” said Kenneth Salchow, Senior Manager of Technical Marketing and Syndication at F5. “To mitigate the effects of attack, work with your ISP to develop a defensive plan for stopping malicious traffic before your network is compromised. Then focus on expanding beyond the network level to address application-layer vulnerabilities.”

Additional Resources

F5 Hacktivism Focus Group Report

F5 Focus Group: Politically Motivated Hackers – SlideShare Presentation

Intelligent Layer 7 DoS and Brute Force Protection for Web Applications – White Paper

F5 Web Application Security Solutions

F5 DevCentral Security Group Forum

About F5 Networks

F5 Networks is the global leader in Application Delivery Networking (ADN), focused on ensuring the secure, reliable, and fast delivery of applications. F5’s flexible architectural framework enables community-driven innovation that helps organizations enhance IT agility and dynamically deliver services that generate true business value. F5’s vision of unified application and data delivery offers customers an unprecedented level of choice in how they deploy ADN solutions. It redefines the management of application, server, storage, and network resources, streamlining application delivery and reducing costs. Global enterprise organizations, service and cloud providers, and Web 2.0 content providers trust F5 to keep their business moving forward. For more information, go to www.f5.com.

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