Top security threats
Simon Campbell-Young, CEO of local security distribution house Phoenix Software, provides an overview of the main threats currently placing your computer at risk, and how to protect against them:
1. Web surfing and social networking
The Web is a cyber-criminal's dream come true. It's instantaneous. It's anonymous. And it's very, very easy to fool people. A Web site that looks at first glance to be your bank's Web site can easily be a clever forgery. And that video-viewing download you're being offered? Chances are you don't need it - and you certainly don't need the spyware that may well be hidden behind a realistic-sounding application name. Traditional virus protection was not designed to cope with the here today, gone tomorrow threats that typically infect social networks. And you can be sure those thousands of Facebook app developers are not focusing their efforts on the security of their applications.
“Blocking social networks is no longer feasible - they're an integral part of marketing and recruitment programmes in many companies today. A more equitable solution can be found in technologies like AVG's LinkScanner, which checks Web pages for security risks before allowing the page to download to the user's browser,” Campbell-Young explains.
2. E-mail and spam
For many years, the virus writers' distribution method of choice was e-mail attachments. Although still a popular method of attack, e-mail is a far less effective way to fool people into opening things they shouldn't than the World Wide Web.
In addition to installing a reputable security solution and keeping it updated, educating employees on responsible e-mail behaviour is fundamental to e-mail security efforts. One important reminder comes from US government agency US-CERT, says Campbell-Young. "Many viruses can 'spoof' the return address in an e-mail, making it look like the message came from someone else. If you recognise the return address but weren't expecting the message, check with the person who supposedly sent the message to make sure it's legitimate before opening any attachments." He adds that you might also want to consider configuring your e-mail system to block the automatic downloading of attachments; this will have the added benefit of discouraging employees from overloading the e-mail network with unnecessary attachments.
3. Instant messaging
While not yet as ubiquitous as e-mail, instant messaging is gaining momentum as a business communications tool, and carries many of the same risks as e-mail, as well as some unique to the IM environment. Viruses and other malware can be hidden in files sent over IM. Links embedded in messages can lead to infected Web sites. IM even has its own version of spam, sometimes called SpIM - Spam over Instant Messaging. Users should also be made aware that some IM services link your screen name to your e-mail address when you register. “The easy availability of your e-mail address can result in an increased number of spam and phishing attacks," warns Campbell-Young. “Users should take care when they register for an IM account that they don't inadvertently advertise their e-mail address.”
4. Insider threats
Know your enemy, you might be employing them. While companies are right to be concerned about shadowy cyber-criminals, employees have the potential to cause just as much havoc. By some accounts, the damage caused by accidental or deliberate data misuse is actually greater than that posed by remote hackers. While education goes a long way towards controlling accidental internal security breaches, stopping staff who might want to introduce destructive malware is more challenging. While keeping anti-virus and other security software up to date is obviously important in protecting networks against internally introduced malware, effective background checking is also key. In an ironic twist, the very social networks that are exploited by cyber-crooks for malware distribution are now being effectively used by human resources professionals to create profiles of applicants for positions involving access to sensitive information.
In today's fragile economic environment, staff cutbacks can create an environment that's ripe for revenge. It's vitally important that network access credentials for any terminated employee or contractor are revoked immediately.
5. Remote workers
Do you have any idea how your company's laptops are being used when they're out of the office? Do you let your staff connect to your network remotely using their own computers? Either way, you're opening the door to significant risk if you don't take the appropriate protective measures. You have every right to impose security policies and protective measures on computers owned by your business, and this goes a long way towards ensuring those machines don't bring any unwanted 'gifts' with them when they reconnect to your network.
6. USB sticks - plug 'n play malware
USB sticks, thumb drives, memory sticks - whatever you call them, these little devices as just as useful to the bad guys as they are to us users. While they're physically tiny compared with a laptop, they can hold several gigabytes of code.
7. Mobile devices
Today's smartphones are, to all intents and purposes, miniature laptops. While the phones themselves are rarely hit by viruses or worms (yet), they can help to spread malware when connected to a network, just like USB drives. Hackers and criminals have also been known to use text messages to direct unsuspecting users to infected Web sites.
8. Wireless networks
Even after more than a decade of use, wireless networks still spill outside the physical confines of an office building, continuing to offer a tempting route into the corporate network for hackers. Closing this loophole means paying attention to the security settings of the network. Organisations need to be aware that the entire contents of their network could end up on someone's Web site if they don't take care to adequately protect their wireless networks.