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Hackers Beware

By Eric Cole
New Riders Publishingh | 817 pages | PDF | 5.017 KB | Download | Password: hacker

No matter what field you work in, you cannot help but notice the impact that the Internet has had on society. It has opened up opportunities and markets that people only dreamed of before.

As with any new technology, there is always a positive and negative aspect. The positive side is the tremendous business opportunities. The negative side is the huge security risk that is now posed to so many companies, yet few companies are truly aware of the potential danger. It’s like getting in a brand new car and driving down the road at 80mph, only to realize that the engineers did not equip the car with breaks. If this did occur and a large number of people bought the car, the net result would be a high number of fatalities because the proper breaking was not built into the car. The same thing is occurring with the Internet. Now that companies have invested millions of dollars in this new infrastructure, they realize that security was not properly built in, and now their entire companies are vulnerable.

Based on everything we know, this truly seems to be the golden age of hacking. To sum things up, it is a great time to be a hacker. Because there are so many possible systems to break into and most of them have such weak security, attackers can pick and choose which machines to go after. To make matters worse, most companies have insufficient information or resources to track these attackers, so even if they are detected, their chances of getting caught are slim. No one polices the Internet, and in terms of knowledge and experience, attackers have the upper hand. Not only is it a good time to be a hacker, but it is a good time to be a security professional. There is plenty of work and a whole lot of challenges ahead.

A recent and well-known example of hacking attacks happened in February of 2000. Several large sites on the Internet were attacked within in a short period of time. The type of attack was a distributed Denial of Service attack in which company web sites became unreachable to legitimate users.

Most of these were web site attacks where an attacker went in and changed the content—also known as web graffiti attacks. Because these were web graffiti attacks, it was fairly obvious that the sites were compromised. With attacks where information is acquired in a less obvious way, there is a good chance that you would not know about it. If you search on the web for hacked sites, or similar terms, you can see a wide range of graffiti attacks. Just be warned that several of them could be offensive to just about anyone.

The Internet grew so quickly that few gave any thought to security. We now have an epidemic on our hands, and things will get worse before they get better. Attackers have the upper hand and it will take a while before companies secure their systems. The best thing for companies to do is disconnect from the Internet until their systems are secure, but no one will do that.

The other thing that makes matters worse is how companies have built their networks. In the past, every company’s network and systems were different. In the late 80s, companies hired programmers to customize their applications and systems, so if an attacker wanted to break into your network, he had to learn a lot about your environment. Your information did not help the attacker when he tried to break into another company’s network, because its systems were totally different. Now, every company uses the same equipment with the same software. If an attacker learns Cisco, Microsoft, and UNIX, he can break into practically any system on the Internet. Because networks are so similar, and software and hardware are so standardized, the attacker’s job is much easier.

Not only does the Internet make it easier for attackers to break into systems or commit crimes, it makes it easier for people to learn how. Attackers have access to a large number of systems that can be compromised, but they also have access to a huge amount of people and resources that can show them how to commit a crime. If an attacker wants to compromise a particular operating system that he is not familiar with, he can either spend months researching it or he can access the Internet and find out what he is looking for in a matter of minutes. Because of the sheer number of resources that are at an attacker’s disposal, his job becomes that much easier.

Many companies also take the security through obscurity approach: “Because no one knows about my network and no one really cares about my company, why do I need security? No one would try to break in.” With the ease of breaking into sites, this logic does not hold. Companies of all shapes and sizes in all different business areas have been broken into. Most companies have learned that when it comes to security, ignorance is deadly.

Most people think about security as an afterthought. They build the network and later put in a firewall or other security measures. With the increase in attacks, however, this model is not efficient. If a site has been online for any period of time and has not had proper security, the company has to assume the worst. When trying to secure existing systems, companies have to assume the systems have been compromised. In a lot of cases, it makes more sense in terms of time and money to save the data and rebuild the systems from scratch than trying to patch a potentially compromised system.

To have a secure site, companies must realize that there are two pieces to the puzzle: prevention and detection. Most companies concentrate their efforts on prevention and forget about detection. For example, on average, more than 90 per cent of large companies have firewalls installed, which are meant to address the prevention issue. The problem, however, is twofold. First, a company cannot prevent all traffic, so some will get through, possibly an attack. Second, most prevention mechanisms that companies put in are either not designed or not configured correctly, which means they are providing minimal protection if any.

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