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Vulnerabilities / Threats

10/19/2006
10:00 AM
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Just When You Thought It Was Safe

Think those old security problems are all solved? Dark Reading's 'Ten Most Dangerous Things Users Do Online' may make you think again

6:00 AM -- We live in a world with a very short attention span. Problems come up, they're in the limelight, and then they're "solved," and we don't want to hear about them anymore. When's the last time you saw a front-page story on the tsunami that wiped out parts of several countries? How about Afghanistan? These problems haven't really been solved -- they've just gone out of fashion.

This week, we found out that the world of IT security isn't much different than the world at large. When we started researching our story on the ten most dangerous things users do online, we expected to find some new behaviors that are keeping IT awake at night. What we found instead, in many cases, were problems that were supposed to have been solved years ago. (See The 10 Most Dangerous Things Users Do Online.)

For example, we thought we'd trained users not to click on email attachments from unknown senders, didn't we? But the old "wrong click" problem turns up right at the top of our "most dangerous" list. According to new research from Finjan, some 93 percent of users say they know that email attachments can contain malware. Unfortunately, 86 percent also say they click on attachments anyway. Problem, apparently, not solved.

Similar results appear elsewhere in our research. For instance, most companies these days don't think much about the use of legally hazardous Web destinations, such as online gambling or pornographic sites. But a newly-published investigation of the Department of the Interior shows that users are routinely circumventing site-blocking and content-filtering tools and using their computers for all sorts of things that not only kill productivity, but could get the organization into real trouble. Problem solved? It doesn't seem so, at least not at the DOI.

And IT people and security experts are still complaining about one of the oldest problems in the data center: password protection. In a study published earlier this week by Nuclear Research and KnowledgeStorm, analysts reported that one in three users is still writing his password down on a piece of paper, or storing it in a text file on the computer. How long have IT people been telling their users not to do that? The answer would be measured in decades, not years. That's a problem that's never been satisfactorily solved.

The fact is, although IT and security technology are changing rapidly, many of the "people" problems remain the same. People are still dangerously curious, or pleasure-seeking, or forgetful. Technology changes, but people mostly don't.

So even if you think you have already "solved" certain security issues, it's a good idea to go back and check on them from time to time. You may have taught your users not to click on email attachments, but you'd better make sure your antivirus software is up to date. You may have content filters in place, but you'll still need to periodically check the sites your users are visiting. You may be scrupulous about the way you issue passwords, but you'd better check for the yellow stickies on the bottom of your users' keyboards. You may think your users know better than to freely surf anywhere on the Web or chitchat on a social networking site while at work, but think again.

In IT security, as in the rest of the world, forgetting about a problem doesn't make it go away. And old user behaviors can still be dangerous -- even if they are out of fashion.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

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