Top 5 Security Threats of All Time

The newspapers are full of stories of the latest attack. Then vendors rush to put out marketing statements glorifying themselves for already having had a solution to the problem, if only you had their product/service, and the beat goes on.

Pause for a moment and compare this to health scares. The top 10 scares according to ABC News include Swine Flu (H1N1), BPA, Lead paint on toys from China, Bird Flu (H5N1) and so on.   They are, no doubt, scary monsters but did you know that the common cold causes 22 million school days to be lost in the USA alone?

In other words, you are better off enforcing basic discipline to prevent days lost from common infections than stockpiling exotic vaccines. The same is true in IT security. Here then, are the top 5 attack vectors of all time. Needless to say these are not particularly hard to execute, and are most often successful simply because basic precautions are not in place or enforced. The Verizon Data Breach Report demonstrates this year in and year out.

1. Information theft and leakage

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) data stolen from unsecured storage is rampant. The Federal Trade Commission says 21% of complaints are related to identity theft and have accounted for 1.3M cases in 2009/10 in the USA. The 2012 Verizon DBIR shows 855 incidents and 174M compromised records.

Lesson learned: Implement recommendations like SANS CAG or PCI-DSS.

2. Brute force attack

Hackers leverage cheap computing power and pervasive broadband connectivity to breach security. This is a low cost, low tech attack that can be automated remotely.   It can be easily detected and defended against, but it requires monitoring and eyes on the logs. It tends to be successful because monitoring is absent.

Lesson learned: Monitor logs from firewalls and network devices in real time. Set up alerts which are reviewed by staff and acted upon as needed. If this is too time consuming, then consider a service like SIEM Simplified.

3. Insider breach

Staff on the inside is often privy to a large amount of data and can cause much larger damage. The Wikileaks case is the poster child for this type of attack.

4. Process and Procedure failures

It is often the case that in the normal course of business, established process and procedures are ignored. Unfortunate coincidences can cause problems.   Examples of this are e-mailing interim work products to personal accounts, taking work home in USB sticks and then losing them, sending CDROMs with source code by mail and then they are lost, etc.

Lesson learned: Reinforce policies and procedures for all employees on a regular basis. Many US Government agencies require annual completion of a Computer Security and Assessment Test.   Many commercial banks remind users via message boxes in the login screen.

5. Operating failures

This includes oops moments, such as backing up data to the wrong server and sending backup data off-site where it can be restored by unauthorized persons.

Lesson learned: Review procedures and policies for gaps. An external auditor can be helpful in identifying such gaps and recommending compensating controls to cover them.