Editorial Opinion: Prowling for varmints

Each time I come back to present an IT Focus issue about security, I find more horrors to write about. For example, I detest rats. I applaud Albertans for safeguarding their borders to keep those rodents out. Now I find an equivalent action is required for our computer systems as these rodents are among the pests that can infiltrate our computer provinces.

You probably already know that RAT is an acronym for remote administration tool which is a Trojan that can let an attacker remotely control a computer via a ‘client’ in the attacker’s machine, and a ‘server’ in the victim’s machine. Not nice.

Along with hacker tools, key loggers that record keystrokes, spyware, adware, trackware, Trojans and worms, RATs are among the 60,462 known pests in existence in 2003 as identified by PestPatrol, Inc. of Carlisle, Penn. Compare this to 10 years ago when there were only an estimated 1,913 computer pests. More details are at http://pestpatrol.com/stats/.

Since computer pests can open back doors into networks, they endanger the integrity of confidential information. Unfortunately, they are not going away. As Linda Leung points out in issue 51 of Network World (U.S.), IT research and consulting firm Computer Economics reports that hackers unleashed at least 50 viruses during August alone. These include the Blaster worm, which Symantec Corp. estimated infiltrated 330,000 systems within its first four days, and SoBig.F, to which e-mail security tools vendor MessageLabs Ltd. awarded the dubious honour of being the fastest-spreading virus ever. The company intercepted 12.8 million SoBig.F-laced e-mails for more than 65,000 business customers within 13 days of its release.

Like Albertans keeping out real flesh, blood and disease-carrying rats, we need to maintain constant vigilance to secure our virtual borders. In fact, creating a security-savvy workforce is the point of Leung’s article. She cites a security expert from Forrester Research Inc. who suggests that security compliance be included in performance reviews. The president of Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) reports that one company avoided succumbing to this year’s MS-S Slammer worm by giving users 48 hours to apply patches and then severing network connections for those who did not comply by the deadline. While network security professionals must accept the CEO’s risk assessment and strive to better understand the delicate balance of remaining open for business while staying protected, users must embrace security as an enabler rather than as some bad-tasting medicine, Leung writes.

Striving for a security-savvy workforce, means if you have 60,000 employees you will have 60,000 pairs of eyes watching for strange things happening on the network, including those caused by a RAT.

This issue of IT Focus also offers an update on communication to help you relay such necessary messages as measures against the pest-infested world of IT. May your company best every pest in 2004.

Susan Maclean

[email protected]

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