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Perimeter

1/22/2010
02:47 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Operating In An Insecure World

I've heard of the idea of operating day-to-day with the assumption that your organization is already compromised, and I just saw it reiterated in the Tenable Security Blog, but I think it's a tough one to swallow for most organizations. There has to be some level of trust within an organization, otherwise, how could you get any business done. But as tough as it is to accept, there is value in taking this approach.

I've heard of the idea of operating day-to-day with the assumption that your organization is already compromised, and I just saw it reiterated in the Tenable Security Blog, but I think it's a tough one to swallow for most organizations. There has to be some level of trust within an organization, otherwise, how could you get any business done. But as tough as it is to accept, there is value in taking this approach.The full quote from the Tenable blog is "Start every day pretending you have been compromised." With the prevalence of malware and bots that fly under the radar of most antivirus products, I don't think that many companies need to pretend. In all honesty, I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't at least one system compromised, if not two, three, or more, in your organization right now. That might sound drastic to some, but it's not.

I've been in to way too many networks that had infections that were being overlooked because no one was monitoring the logs. Here, the system administration staff had proof sitting in their logs and they never noticed. Unfortunately, I've seen a couple of incidents where a server had been infected by a bot that was phoning home that wasn't detected for one- to three months.

Of course, the numbers may be much worse than we realize. Damballa released research in September of last year stating that they were identifying 7 to 9 percent of enterprise hosts were bot-infected in 100 percent of their customers and proof-of-concept deployments. Think your odds are better?

Paul, the author of the Tenable blog entry, makes several good points at the end of his post on being proactive to prevent compromises. They are things I've preached in the past like patch management and vulnerability management. The problem that we're facing is that even with all those protections in place, machines are still getting compromised because of zero-day attacks.

So how do you get into the mindset that inevitably, with all of your protections and countermeasures in place, something is going to get past you? It's a hard one because almost no one wants to play a game they know they will never win, but that's what we're doing. I think for many of us, fighting seemingly unbeatable odds is what makes the security field so interesting and exciting. And, since the field is always changing it makes things even more challenging and fun.

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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