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Perimeter

7/6/2009
03:13 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Would Your Users Take The Bait?

Military leaders would never send their troops into war without preparing them for the threats they'd be facing on the battleground. Likewise, you shouldn't let your users go about their daily activities without educating them about the dangers they face when opening an e-mail or clicking on a link returned from a seemingly innocuous Google query.

Military leaders would never send their troops into war without preparing them for the threats they'd be facing on the battleground. Likewise, you shouldn't let your users go about their daily activities without educating them about the dangers they face when opening an e-mail or clicking on a link returned from a seemingly innocuous Google query.I've heard many arguments that user education doesn't work, but I disagree. Sure, it doesn't work for a small subset of users -- and we can't change that -- but awareness is not lost on every user. The real issue: Education just isn't enough with today's threats.

Client-side exploits and their methods of delivery provide the proof. For example, F-Secure has posted sample "bait files" on its blog that show real malware-laden Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF documents it has received. Take a look and see how many might dupe your users.

With the exception of the last document, I'd hazard a guess that every single one of them would have passed a quick test of normalcy by a panel of your users. Now imagine the content of the file targeting your company or company's industry. I suspect that all of your users would open the file, read it, and then discard it if it didn't interest or apply to them directly. None would realize they just became infected. And it's likely they would be helpful and send it to others who would be more likely recipients.

Showing the F-Secure samples to our users is a good start toward sowing the seeds of realization that malicious files can come in practically any shape and size and trick us into opening them. They also need to understand that the simple act of opening a PDF or Word document can infect them. What I've found is just telling them isn't enough. Examples like the ones from F-Secure are needed to demonstrate the reality of what we face as both users and infosec professionals.

What are you doing to educate your users? Have you given up, or have you found creative ways and concrete examples to help them understand the threats we face? I'm interested to know the response you've received -- positive or negative.

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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