Business Security Leaks That Should Be Plugged

The Titanic was thought to be unsinkable, a testament to the engineering prowess of its day and the fact that luxury liners rarely collided with massive icebergs.

In modern businesses, there’s a similar perception of invulnerability. Yet, for every organization that glides through the year without any mishaps, there are many stories about perilous break-ins, Wi-Fi sniffing snafus and incidents where Bluetooth sniper rifles were used to steal company secrets.

Here’s a look at some security holes that are often wide open, even in companies that take great pride in their precautions. We have some information here on what you can do about them, before your business infrastructure (or a ship) hits a wall of ice.

1. Unauthorized smartphones on Wi-Fi networks

Smartphones create the biggest risks in enterprise security, mostly because they’re so common and because some employees just can’t resist using personal devices in the office — even if their employers have well-established policies prohibiting their use.

The danger is that cell phones are tri-homed devices — Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GSM wireless.  Employees who use their personal smartphones at work introduce a conduit that is vulnerable to potential attack points.

If you use a device like a smartphone that spans multiple wireless spectrums, someone in a parking lot or just someone across the street or from that neighborhood building could use a software that is called as a bluetooth sniper rifle that can read Bluetooth from a mile away, connect to a smartphone, then connect to a corporate wireless network. Bluetooth is the open portal that lets a hacker access Wi-Fi and therefore the corporate network.

Policies that simply disallow smartphones aren’t likely to be effective — employees will be too tempted to use their gadgets at work even if they’re prohibited. Instead, he says IT should allow only approved devices to access the network. And that access should be based on MAC addresses, which are unique codes that are tied to specific devices — making them more traceable.

Another tactic is to use network access control to make sure whoever is connecting is, in fact, authorized to connect. In an ideal world, companies should also separate guest access Wi-Fi networks from important corporate networks, even if having two wireless LANs means some redundancy and management overhead.

2. Open ports on a network printer

The office printer is another seemingly innocuous device that represents a security risk, although most companies are oblivious to the danger.Printers have become Wi-Fi enabled over the past few years, and some even use 3G access and telephone lines for faxes. Some models do block access to certain ports on printers but, if there are 200 blocked ports for printers at a large company, there might be another 1,000 ports that are wide open. Hackers can break into corporate networks through these ports. A more nefarious trick is to capture all printouts as a way to steal sensitive business information.

One of the reasons you do not hear about it is because there is no effective way to shut them down.

The best way to deal with this problem is to disable the wireless options on printers altogether. If that’s not feasible, IT should make sure all ports are blocked for any unauthorized access. It’s also important to use security management tools that monitor and report on open printer ports.

3. Custom-developed Web applications with bad code

Just about every enterprise security professional lives in fear of holes created by sloppy programming.  This can occur with custom-developed software as well as with commercial and open-source software. One common trick is to tap into the xp_cmdshell routine on a server, which an inexperienced programmer or systems administrator might leave wide open for attack. Hackers who do that can gain full access to a database, which provides an entryway to data and a quick back door to networks.

PHP routines on a Web server can also be ripe for attack. Small coding errors, such as improper safeguards when calling a remote file from an application, provide a way for hackers to add their own embedded code. This can occur if a developer wasn’t careful to restrict which files might be called based on a user’s form input, or a company blog using a trackback feature to report on links back to its posts, without first sanitizing stored URLs to prevent unauthorized database queries.

The most obvious fix to this problem is to avoid some software such as freely available PHP scripts, blog add-ons and other code that might be suspect. If such software is needed, security-monitoring tools can detect vulnerabilities even in small PHP scripts.

4. Social network spoofing

Facebook and Twitter users can be fooled into divulging sensitive information. Usually, these types of attacks are subtle and not necessarily traceable.

People looking for jobs are often willing to divulge [personal] information. We have some facts on about how a hacker used a fake e-mail address from a job-search Web site to pose as a recruiter. It’s an example of what is called the “confused deputy” scenario, where someone claiming to be, say, a recruiter for Jobstreet.Com contacts an employee, and the employee believes that the caller is, in fact, a Jobstreet.Com recruiter and doesn’t ask to verify his credentials. It’s the same as getting an envelope in the mail — just because the envelope has a certain return address, it doesn’t mean that the contents actually came from that sender.

Companies should use e-mail verification systems that confirm the identity of a sender. These verifications send an e-mail back to the address to confirm the sender’s credentials.

I personally use Boxbe. But there seems to be no law here in the Philippines which protects users from e-mail or online impersonations.

5. Employees downloading illegal movies and music

I have experienced this one a couple of weeks back. Not only did it create havoc on the file server, but it may also pose some risks into the corporate network.

Peer to peer networks will not just won’t go away. In a company, it’s not uncommon to find employees using peer-to-peer systems to download illegal wares or setting up their own servers to distribute software.

P2P networking should, as per policy, be completely blocked in every enterprise. The P2P ports should be completely shut down at all perimeters and ideally at the company’s endpoints. P2P programs can be stopped through white/black listings and filters on the enterprise servers.

We have done this a few years back where we had a P2P port running all day, every day in our office. Eventually, it was discovered and found to be a porn file server. That unfortunate truth about what he calls “criminal hacking” is that the thieves are usually drawn to nefarious activities, so one of the first places they might look is a P2P server and any potential security holes.

“Injecting hostile code into P2P files is [not difficult] and can create a beachhead within an organization, depending upon the code design. A technique called “resource isolation,” which essentially controls which applications users are allowed to access based on permission rights. Different operating systems do that in slightly different ways, but it’s worth pursuing in situations where a corporate policy is lacking or isn’t followed.

We encourage IT administrators to conduct regular sweeps of all company networks and servers to look for P2P activity and to be vigilant about blocking any P2P activity.

6. SMS text messaging spoofs and malware infections

Another potential attack vector: text messaging on smartphones. Hackers can now use SMS text messages to contact employees in direct attempts to get them to divulge sensitive information like network log-in credentials and business data, but they can also use text messages to install malware on a phone.

We have done some internal proof-of-concept work, where we showed how a rootkit could turn on a phone’s microphone without the owner knowing it happened. An attacker can send an invisible text message to the infected phone telling it to place a call and turn on the microphone.That would be an effective tactic if, for example, the phone’s owner was in a meeting and the attacker wanted to eavesdrop.

There are ways to filter SMS activity, but that’s usually done through the wireless carrier, since SMS isn’t IP-based and therefore isn’t usually controlled by company admins. The best option for blocking such attacks is to work with carriers to make sure that they’re using malware-blocking software, SMS filters and redirects for those kinds of attacks.

And again, creating smartphone usage policies that encourage or require the use of only company-sanctioned or company-provided phones and service plans can reduce that risk.

Of course, companies can’t thwart every possible security attack with current technology, and hackers are constantly switching tactics. You should try to plug these six security leaks and work to ensure that they stay plugged — but you should also keep an eye out for new forms of malicious activity.




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