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Perimeter

11/2/2009
11:01 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Hacking Is A Way Of Life

We've heard the stories and seen the statistics about insider attacks and how devastating they are to enterprises and their data. However, we've heard little about the underlying causes for many of the insider attacks other than it's the user's fault and the incident could have been avoided if proper precautions were in place. A recent article over at CSO Online sheds light on one of the causes and how it's due in large part to a generation gap and a need to stay connected.

We've heard the stories and seen the statistics about insider attacks and how devastating they are to enterprises and their data. However, we've heard little about the underlying causes for many of the insider attacks other than it's the user's fault and the incident could have been avoided if proper precautions were in place. A recent article over at CSO Online sheds light on one of the causes and how it's due in large part to a generation gap and a need to stay connected.Jim Routh and Gary McGraw have put together an interesting article, "Lifestyle Hackers," that looks at how insider breaches are being caused by members of the Net Generation who have grown up with the Internet at their fingertips. These lifestyle hackers are "twenty-somethings" circumventing security controls so they can listen to streaming media and stay connected to their friends via social networks while at work.

But it's not just friends that the lifestyle hackers want to stay in touch with. Social networking sites provide opportunities for not just personal contact, but also professional and marketing contacts that might not be as easily accessible otherwise.

I think the authors summed up the problem best with the following statement: "The most interesting and ironic aspect of the lifestyle hacker is that he is motivated by the pursuit of productivity, often the very same motivation driving the implementation of various corporate controls."

I've heard vendors make statements that users will circumvent security controls in order to get their job done because waiting for IT to fix their access issues takes too long and often results in more problems. This article is the first time I've heard it stated that users are circumventing controls to be more productive by using the very Websites that management considers unproductive.

The article struck a chord in me because I'm caught right in the middle of the gap. On one hand, I'm a security geek who understands the usefulness of social networking and uses several related sites on a daily basis. On the other hand, I see the results of irresponsible and uneducated usage of those networks every day.

Is there a happy medium? I think so, but it's not going to come all that quickly, especially to old school brick and mortar institutions that don't understand the benefits of social networks, and instead choose to only see it as a productivity killer. The authors offered up a several solid suggestions on how companies can approach the issues and address risks, but I think they left out one critical point to success--education of executives.

If the executives don't understand the benefits, how they can leverage social networking to their companies benefit, and work with IT to develop policies for a safe and productive environment, they will fail to keep the lifestyle hackers happy. It's a fascinating dilemma and will be interesting to see how it plays out for companies.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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