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Introduction To Network Security - Part 1

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The Threat to the Enterprise

Most businesses have conceded that having an Internet presence is critical to keep up with the competition, and most of them have realised the need to secure that online presence.

Gone are the days when firewalls were an option and employees were given unrestricted Internet access. These days most medium sized corporations implement firewalls, content monitoring and intrusion detection systems as part of the basic network infrastructure.

For the enterprise, security is very important -- the threats include:

• Corporate espionage by competitors,
• Attacks from disgruntled ex-employees
• Attacks from outsiders who are looking to obtain private data and steal the company's crown jewels (be it a database of credit cards, information on a new product, financial data, source code to programs, etc.)
• Attacks from outsiders who just want to use your company's resources to store pornography, illegal pirated software, movies and music, so that others can download and your company ends up paying the bandwidth bill and in some countries can be held liable for the copyright violations on movies and music.

As far as securing the enterprise goes, it is not enough to merely install a firewall or intrustion detection system and assume that you are covered against all threats. The company must have a complete security policy and basic training must be imparted to all employees telling them things they should and should not do, as well as who to contact in the event of an incident. Larger companies may even have an incident response or security team to deal specifically with these issues.

One has to understand that security in the enterprise is a 24/7 problem. There is a famous saying, "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link", the same rule applies to security.

After the security measures are put in place, someone has to take the trouble to read the logs, occasionally test the security, follow mailing-lists of the latest vulnerabilities to make sure software and hardware is up-to-date etc. In other words, if your organisation is serious about security, there should be someone who handles security issues.

This person is often a network administrator, but invariably in the chaotic throes of day-to-day administration (yes we all dread user support calls ! :) the security of the organisation gets compromised -- for example, an admin who needs to deliver 10 machines to a new department may not password protect the administrator account, just because it saves him some time and lets him meet a deadline. In short, an organisation is either serious about security issues or does not bother with them at all.

While the notion of 24/7 security may seem paranoid to some people, one has to understand that in a lot of cases a company is not specifically targetted by an attacker. The company's network just happen to be one that the attacker knows how to break into and thus they get targetted. This is often the case in attacks where company ftp or webservers have been used to host illegal material.

The attackers don't care what the company does - they just know that this is a system accessible from the Internet where they can store large amounts of warez (pirated software), music, movies, or pornography. This is actually a much larger problem than most people are aware of because in many cases, the attackers are very good at hiding the illegal data. Its only when the bandwidth bill has to be paid that someone realises that something is amiss.

 

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