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Vulnerabilities / Threats

10/7/2010
06:24 PM
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Outgunned: How Security Tech Is Failing Us

Our testing shows we're spending billions on defenses that are no match for the stealthy attacks being thrown at us today. What can be done?

Information security professionals face mounting threats, hoping some mix of technology, education, and hard work will keep their companies and organizations safe. But lately, the specter of failure is looming larger.

"Pay no attention to the exploit behind the curtain" is the message from product vendors as they roll out the next iteration of their all-powerful, dynamically updating, self-defending, threat-intelligent, risk-mitigating, compliance-ensuring, nth-generation security technologies. Just pony up the money and the manpower and you'll be safe from what goes bump in the night.

Thing is, the pitch is less believable these days, and the atmosphere is becoming downright hostile.

We face more and larger breaches, increased costs, more advanced adversaries, and a growing number of public control failures. Regulation and litigation have both increased. We're still struggling with the expensive PCI initiative, an effort as controversial as its efficacy is questionable--U.S. businesses continue to hemorrhage credit card numbers and personally identifiable information. The tab for the Heartland Payment Systems breach, which compromised 130 million card numbers, is reportedly at $144 million and counting. The Stuxnet worm, a cunning and highly targeted piece of cyberweaponry, just left a trail of tens of thousands of infected PCs. Earlier this month, the FBI announced the arrest of individuals who used the Zeus Trojan to pilfer $70 million from U.S. banks. Zeus is in year three of its reign of terror, impervious to law enforcement, government agencies, and the sophisticated information security teams of the largest financial services firms on the planet.

"If you're being targeted like that, I hope to hell you have an infrastructure and information security strategy that goes far beyond just antivirus," says the IT director at a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company.

Some do, some don't. But collectively, we've spent billions of dollars on security technologies, and we still can't curb these threats. Intruders trot through firewalls deployed to block them, while malware flourishes on systems that antivirus vendors pledge to immunize. Meantime, our identity management efforts guzzle funds faster than politicians before a crucial vote.

Most of the IT security vendors we interviewed for this article--and we spoke with many of them--admit that their products have flaws, are less than comprehensive, and certainly have room for improvement. But what many of them are not so forthright about is just how bad the situation is. For example, during our own tests of antivirus system effectiveness, bypassing every one of the five major AV suites we had in our lab was a trivial matter. (Our full report contains a rundown of our AV effectiveness testing.)

The situation is untenable for IT security teams. As one respondent to our InformationWeek Analytics Security Toolbox Survey put it, "Reputable vendors don't explicitly lie, but they do lie by omission."

What happened? Have we been purposely misled? Have we not spent enough money? Are we spending in the wrong places? Are our expectations too high, or is the technology too broken? Or are we just outgunned?

The scary answer is: All of the above. Recent events suggest that we are at a tipping point, and the need to reassess and adapt has never been greater. That starts with facing some hard truths and a willingness to change the status quo.

InformationWeek: Oct. 11, 2010 Issue To read the rest of the article, download a free PDF of InformationWeek magazine
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Outgunned: How Security Technologies Are Failing Us

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