More Than Malware: A Holistic Approach to Security

Cormac Foster, Journalist, Analyst, Tech Manager | 1/22/2013 | 40 comments

Cormac Foster
Malware is going to be ugly in 2013. BitDefender is already calling this "The Year of Mobile Malware," which should send shivers down the spines of anyone playing with BYOD.

In addition to all the usual PC-based viruses and Trojans, IT now has to add rogue cellphones and tablets from the unprotected wild to its list of threats. Device-level anti-malware is more important than ever.

Still, it's easy to get too wrapped up in end-point anti-malware at the expense of your broader network protection strategy. Two recent Gartner blogs have pointed out very different vulnerabilities that are equally important, and a good security system needs to address them all.

In Playing Chess with APTs, Gartner's Dan Blum argues that fortifying firewalls and locking down end points are noble goals, but by themselves, they provide an outdated and insufficient security design. To Blum, the enterprise needs to extend its reach beyond the firewall through Secure Web and Email Gateways, while simultaneously developing internal procedures for sensing, analyzing, and sharing data about threats that do make it past the perimeter.

Blum raises excellent points. Attackers' tactics evolve daily, and the volume and types of network traffic passing through networks grow every year, yet our moat-and-castle defenses haven't changed in two decades. Spreading your security footprint and gathering intelligence quickly are the new keys to survival. Blum told me more in an email exchange:

Companies should develop operational efficiency on stopping malware. This means not only deploying state of the art protection tools, but also employing change management, virtual re-imaging and integrity monitoring technologies to bulletproof the critical data center environment. But even with that, assume that sophisticated and persistent groups of adversaries can reconnoiter and work around any static defense. If your organization is thought to be at heightened risk of targeted attacks, also deploy advanced security monitoring tools and subscribe to threat intelligence services.

Malware isn't your only risk, and it might not be the biggest. In More on Internal Data Loss Incidents, Anton Chuvakin cautions against sloppy policies that could (and probably will) cause more damage than any super-virus. Even the most hardened perimeter is useless if everything on the inside is wide open.

The highest-profile hack of this century was allegedly conducted by a single man with a recordable CD. According to charges filed by the US government, Private First Class Bradley Manning downloaded hundreds of thousands of sensitive and classified files and cables.

How was an enlisted soldier able to access that much data? Poor planning and lazy design.

Any system that allows partners and employees free reign is a lost cause long before the malware arrives. Social engineering, spear-phishing, physical device theft, and other non-malware attacks can bypass even the strongest external barriers, and businesses need to be able to identify and contain threats when they arise.

Malware is important, and building a strong fence against it is critical, but every fence has holes. To be effective, your business needs a holistic security policy that does what it can to minimize intrusions, locks down intruders when they get through the gates, and provides the information you need to shut down the threat as quickly as possible.

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Joe Stanganelli   More Than Malware: A Holistic Approach to Security   1/30/2013 12:14:56 AM
Re: Knowns and unknowns
Fascinating, DBK.  What's the name of the app?

(Worth mentioning, also, that with some software/systems there are exploits that allow authentication to be faked -- but point well taken.)
Joe Stanganelli   More Than Malware: A Holistic Approach to Security   1/30/2013 12:12:27 AM
Re: Knowns and unknowns
Hi, Hospice.

The point I was making was that if you are non-BYOD, then you may well have LESS of an idea of what's on your network than an organization with well implemented BYOD because you are probably less prepared for noncompliant employees using their own devices under the radar.

And if a noncompliant employee's personal device becomes compromised, how likely are they to step forward, alert the IT department, and by doing so admit that they violated company policy?
Susan Nunziata   More Than Malware: A Holistic Approach to Security   1/29/2013 12:27:40 AM
Re: BYOD and Malware
@Cormac: Thanks for the additional resource. Definitely something worth exploring further.
Damian Romano   More Than Malware: A Holistic Approach to Security   1/28/2013 8:24:56 AM
Re: Security, the afterthought.
@nasimson - I think the debate is only as valid as it understood. In the end, security is an insurance policy. There is risk in anything we do. It just all comes down to the need for it. Similar to home security systems, most people don't think they need one until they (or someone else) gets robbed.
nasimson   More Than Malware: A Holistic Approach to Security   1/27/2013 12:35:25 PM
Re: Security, the afterthought.
@Damian: From your perspective, I guess it really is. This is a long debate and a few good facts might not justify it that well.

 
Cormac Foster   More Than Malware: A Holistic Approach to Security   1/27/2013 1:55:28 AM
Re: BYOD and Malware
@Susan Not offhand, but I imagine there's some pretty good vendor-sponsored research out there that gives an overview, albeit with an obvious bias. One of the cross-device toolsets like Dell KACE (http://www.kace.com/) would probably give a fairly broad overview.
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Susan Nunziata   More Than Malware: A Holistic Approach to Security   1/26/2013 9:07:36 PM
Re: BYOD and Malware
@Cormac: Great point. It would be interesting to see them compared. I don't know of anyone who has done that kind of comparison. Do you?
Damian Romano   More Than Malware: A Holistic Approach to Security   1/26/2013 2:06:21 PM
Re: Security, the afterthought.
@nasimson - I think there's a few ways to look at the issue, and that's one of them. I can remember over a decade ago when I worked in retail banking and would ask people for their ID when withdrawling money that most of them would get aggitated. From their perspective it was "inconvenient" to have to reach into their wallet and get their ID. But what they were missing was the fact that if I didn't ask for their ID that anyone could come in a w/d money from their account. And after the fact they understood and were willing. So in the end, you're right. But it's all a matter of how you look at it.
nasimson   More Than Malware: A Holistic Approach to Security   1/26/2013 12:52:13 PM
Re: Security, the afterthought.
@Damian: What if the security is our convenience. If it wasn't, why would companies be spending thousands of dollars trying to eradicate every single bit of virus in their network. OR even on an individual level, why would we be installing antivirus softwares just trying to get rid of malicious softwares/viruses etc.
nasimson   More Than Malware: A Holistic Approach to Security   1/26/2013 12:46:42 PM
Alarming
Well, where there is good, there has to be bad. That's how nature works. I guess, same is the case here. An alarming situation nevertheless. Serious action has to be taken against it or this plague will spread out soon leaving us with faulty OSs' and malware infected files.
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